The latest draft of Columbia Public Schools’ phased-in learning plan still has the district’s youngest students starting first, as well as those taking career and technical education classes.

Superintendent Peter Stiepleman presented the revised draft Thursday to the Columbia School Board. One revision from a draft presented Sept. 14 is that middle school students would start back before high school students do.

At issue is when students will begin hybrid learning, meaning attending classes in person two days a week and learning virtually the rest of the time.

The latest plan looks like this:

  • Phase one: pre-kindergarten through second-graders; special education students in kindergarten and first and second grades; and students taking career and tech-ed classes.
  • Phase two: third- through fifth-graders.
  • Phase three: middle school students.
  • Phase four: high school students.

Under the hybrid plan, students attend classes in person either Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays. But that plan has been on hold as classes went virtual while the Columbia community grapples with COVID-19.

Board Vice President Susan Blackburn asked Stiepleman whether bringing back all elementary school students at once was a possibility. He said a lot goes into the logistics of doing that and shifted the question to three elementary school principals attending via Zoom — De’Vion Moore of Alpha Hart Lewis, Seth Woods of Beulah Ralph and Jen Wingert of Grant. They said that although it wasn’t impossible, it was “a high hurdle.”

Conversation largely addressed the challenges of launching phased-in learning. A big one is staffing, given that teachers must cater to each of the separate levels of phased-in learning. One example is that while most students would attend classes in person two days a week, kindergartners and first- and second-graders in special education would attend four days a week.

The district began the school year two weeks late and in an all-virtual format because of a local rise in COVID-19 cases. At the time, the district’s 14-day tracker showed the number of active cases in areas served by Columbia Public Schools was well above the 50 per 10,000 people standard established earlier. On Wednesday, the tracker put the number at 49 cases per 10,000.

As things stand, Stiepleman will recommend a final plan to the board Oct. 12 for a vote.

“We are not ready yet. However, we are very close,” he told the board, in reference to starting in-person learning.

Sells name taken off Rock Bridge field

Also at the morning work session, board president Helen Wade directed the district to change the name of the Wayne Sells Family Activity Field to the Rock Bridge Athletic Field. Scoreboard signage will be removed. No other renaming is planned.

This month, Sells, who donated $100,000 toward the 2006 installation of artificial turf at the field, posted a profane social media post disparaging NFL players who knelt for the national anthem. Wade criticized the post and called for renaming the field “with all due expediency.” In a letter, Sells apologized and suggested renaming the field as well.

“Forgiveness does not equal an excuse, and forgiveness is what I think everybody up here has expressed,” Wade said Thursday, referring to other board members, “and I think it is entirely appropriate.”

  • Education reporter, fall 2019 Studying print and digital journalism Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

  • Education reporter, fall 2020 Studying magazine editing journalism. Reach me at, or in the newsroom 882-5700.

  • 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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