Parents, teachers and students were more than ready for the Columbia Public Schools fall reopening plan released Monday.

Kathy Steinhoff, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, commended the district for the details in the 38-page plan and the thought and effort that went into it.

“It is clear, easy to access and manage, and I really think it is student- and educator-centered,” said Steinhoff, a teacher at Hickman High School.

The plan outlines learning options for all grades as well as including special education students and English learners. A survey accompanying it, due June 30, asks families to decide whether their students will continue learning remotely or head back to the classrooms.

“I am very happy they are having the choice of in-person,” said Laurie Painter, mother of a rising sophomore at Battle High School. “I am glad they gave the option because I know some kiddos need to do online, but my son really needs in-person, to be sitting in that seat.”

Brooke Bess, a rising sophomore at Rock Bridge High School, is choosing to take classes in-person after not enjoying remote learning this past spring.

“Online didn’t work for me. I wasn’t really motivated to do anything,” Bess said. “When I am actually there in school, I can focus more.”

Some parents think the plan did not sufficiently address key aspects of reopening.

“I am concerned about the busing and that parents are encouraged to provide the transportation because that is really not an option for my family,” said Jill Casteel, mother of a rising seventh grader at Smithton Middle School.

Bus transportation is available, the plan states, but “due to COVID-19 social distancing recommendations, it is highly recommended students provide their own transportation.”

Another sore point is masks. Unlike MU, where students will be required to wear masks inside campus buildings, Columbia Public Schools students will not have to wear them in school.

Clover Chenoweth-Helmka, whose child will be a freshman at Hickman High School, said she believes masks should have been more of a priority.

“It just gives comfort to people,” Chenoweth-Helmka said. “At least when school starts, even if it is for a couple months, wear a mask. There is no reason not to.”

District spokesperson Michelle Baumstark pointed to Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services guidelines.

“With our local health department, it is not actually a requirement. Of course, we are encouraging it, but we can’t make it a requirement,” Baumstark said. “The reality is, it’s really hard to make something required if you can’t 100% enforce it.”

In general, Baumstark said, she thinks people need to keep in mind it’s a pandemic and every day is different.

“We are all doing our best,” she said. “There is no handbook that was given to everybody that says, ‘This is how you handle this particular global pandemic situation.’ I think every decision that is being made is being made with the safety and well-being of our students and staff at the forefront.”

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • News reporter, summer 2020. I am a senior studying business and economic journalism with a business minor. You can reach me at

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and

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