COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
With new coronavirus cases on the decline in the Columbia Public Schools boundaries, district leaders are discussing putting students in classrooms five days each week.
Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said in an interview Monday morning on ABC17 News that the possibility will be discussed at the Columbia Board of Education meeting set for March 8.
The rate of cases in the last 14-days in the CPS boundaries has fallen dramatically since students at all grade levels returned to classrooms Jan. 19 for the first time since last March.
The district reported a new case rate of 74.9. As of Monday, the rate was 20.9.
The CPS website says 25 staff members and 131 students are currently out because of COVID-19 across the district. That includes positive tests and exposures to the virus.
"Its definitely always been the goal to get back to that sense of normalcy through five days a week learning," said Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association Co-President, Ariel Schwarting.
Stiepleman said there are many different factors CPS officials would tie into the decision to return five days per week.
Only 18% of CPS staff have received their coronavirus vaccine. Stiepleman said he thinks more doses will be readily available for their staff after a one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson vaccine gets FDA approval. That approval could come later this week.
"We're going to see that the market is going to begin to be flooded with more vaccines giving us the opportunity to begin Tier 3, which includes our school employees," Stiepleman said.
Schwarting said having the vaccine available to teachers and staff will add that extra layer of protection for them to safely return to in-person learning as soon as possible.
John Potter, CPS parent, said he feels more than comfortable with his children going back to in-person learning before all staff members receive the vaccine.
Potter said the online learning module has been hard to do with younger students. "My middle daughter is in third grade, she's hyper and its hard to keep her attention when it comes to the tablet."
Potter thinks parents who are not yet comfortable with their children returning to the buildings should have a choice to keep them learning online.
Michelle Baumstark for CPS said, "Families that chose virtual will remain virtual for the rest of the year."
Baumstark said families have had multiple opportunities to change their choice through the start of the second semester, but they are no longer offering that option.
Missouri is administering shots to people in Tiers 1 and 2 of Phase 1B of its vaccination plan. Those tiers include first responders, medical professionals, people with certain health issues and those over 65 years old.
Vaccinations for teachers will still take several weeks because doses do have to be spread out -- 21 days between shots for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 for the Moderna vaccine. Stiepleman said in the meantime, CPS will adhere to CDC guidelines.
Mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing are among the virus-fighting tactics schools use.
Another factor that could affect the return to a full week of in-person learning is substitute teacher rates. CPS needs more subs after students returned on Jan. 19.
The district's website showed a need for 153.5 subs on Jan. 19 compared to 200.9 last week. Although more are needed, the sub fill rates have still remained the same.
Check back for more on this developing story and watch ABC 17 News at 6 p.m.