Community members pushed for more equitable and inclusive district policies Monday during a meeting of the Columbia School Board.

Also, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said the district plans to offer students the choice to attend classes either in-person or online. He emphasized the plan is subject to change.

Much of the public comment called for creation of parent advisory councils, or PACs, to address issues of inequity students of color and students with disabilities may face.

The volunteer group of parents would express the concerns and opinions of families on district policies. Community members suggested one dedicated to equity and another to special education. Those advocating for PACs challenged the board to recognize and address issues of inequality.

Kathy Steinhoff, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, said equity programs within the school could address much larger issues in the community.

“Are we done? Absolutely not. Do we wish we could move faster? Yes,” she said. “But turning a ship of our size is hard, particularly when facing an iceberg.”

Former students shared their experiences with racism while attending district schools.

A Facebook post shared Thursday by former Rock Bridge High School student Janylah Thomas drew more than 1,000 comments about racist experiences there. The post prompted a Zoom webinar Sunday during which students shared their experiences.

Thomas spoke to the board Monday and suggested educators participate in additional training on how to address racism in classrooms.

“I believe that is that what is going on at Rock Bridge is a direct reflection of what is going on in our country today,” Thomas said. “Just as we are protesting and addressing what is happening in the world, we need to address and protest injustices our black children are facing in the schools.”

Other suggestions made during public comment were to ensure students with disabilities receive equitable education, redraw district lines to promote more diverse student bodies and hire more teachers and counselors of color.

Later in the meeting, Stiepleman provided an update to the board about district preparations as it adapts to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Monday, he said, the district plans to offer students the choice to attend classes in-person or online.

In-person classes in elementary and secondary schools would implement policies to prevent spread of the virus, such as providing masks for employees and keeping students in one classroom throughout the day. Online classes would include curriculum created by MU for elementary schools and district curriculum for secondary schools.

Stiepleman emphasized that the plan was contingent and that the district would continue to work with health departments throughout the summer. More detailed information will be made available to families by June 22, he said.

The board also unanimously adopted and approved the 2020-2021 budget, which predicts over a $17 million deficit due to a loss of revenue. The district will make up for this loss with savings from past conservative budgeting and almost $12 million leftover from last year’s budget.

Employee pay and benefits account for 78% of next year’s expenditures. The district plans to spend $14.5 million more this year to increase wages and hire more teachers and specialized employees. Expenditures for services and supplies, such as furniture and improving the elementary language arts curriculum, will increase by $11.7 million.

Before the board’s meeting began, Stiepleman swore in newcomers Chris Horn and David Seamon and incumbent Helen Wade to the board.

Jonathan Sessions, who served on the volunteer board for a decade and was the board’s vice president this past year, did not win reelection June 2. Stiepleman thanked Sessions and Paul Cushing, who did not seek reelection this year, for their service to the board.

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • Assistant city editor for the public health and safety beat. I am a second year graduate student studying public policy journalism. You can reach me at mne275@umsystem.edu or on Twitter @MikaylaEasley

  • 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 brixeye@missouri.edu.

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