COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The Columbia Board of Education voted Monday night to return to in-person learning five days a week. Students in all grades will return to the classroom Monday through Friday after spring break, which ends on April 2.
The board voted unanimously to approve the return.
Students that were already learning online-only will continue to do so.
Watch replay of the meeting in the player below.
This will be the first time Columbia Public Schools students return to their classrooms full-time since last spring. Elementary students returned to classrooms last fall but were forced back online as coronavirus cases surged.
Both elementary and middle and high school students went back to classrooms last month. Middle and high school students currently attend school two days per week in-person and two days virtually. Elementary students attend school four days per week with Wednesdays off.
The board voted against a backdrop of steady declines in coronavirus cases locally. As of Sunday, the 14-day rate of COVID-19 per 10,000 people within the district was at 12. The rate has dropped drastically from its peak of 111.7 on Nov. 23.
CPS Superintendent Peter Stiepleman provided an update on the latest numbers to the board. He said things looked positive with COVID-19 case rates and the number of students in quarantine or isolation dropping significantly in recent months.
He said health leaders have some theories on why numbers continue to drop, including the possibility of COVID-19 having a natural season and more.
"There may be enough symptomatic cases among 20 to 40-year-olds, meaning that they've already had COVID and since they are the largest group who may be transmitting COVID, or that people are serious about mitigation strategies and that is preventing infection," Stiepleman said.
Social distancing will not be possible under a five-day week, but Stiepleman said recent studies show masks work along with other preventative measures like social distancing when possible and hand washing.
One student of Rock Bridge High School voiced concern about the lack of space, especially for teachers.
"A significant amount of teachers will remain unvaccinated for the foreseeable future, and exposing them to crowded classrooms puts them in danger," she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said students and teachers learning entirely in-person creates a higher risk of spreading the virus under the following conditions:
- Some mixing of groups of students and teachers throughout/across school days
- Some sharing of objects between students and teachers
- Students, teachers, and staff following some steps to protect themselves and others such as proper use of face masks, social distancing, and hand hygiene
- Irregular cleaning of frequently touched areas
The board has previously said when it voted to return to in-person learning students and staff would be required to wear masks, and they will continue to do so during the five-day weeks.
Several groups representing teachers also spoke about the decision before the board voted. They said having Wednesdays off has been beneficial for teachers as they continue to plan lessons and help students.
Ariel Schwarting with the Missouri State Teachers Association said the group hopes the board and district will work in the future to provide a similar chance for teachers to tackle specific tasks.
"We are asking that the board and administration make it a priority in the future to provide teachers the time they need to master new concepts and complete additional work responsibilities," Schwarting said.
Educators will also become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on March 15. According to the CPS website, 837 staff members, or 24.4% of the staff, have received the vaccine.
The district is currently looking at several dates to hold a mass vaccination event.