Superintendent Peter Stiepleman presented a plan for phasing students into in-person hybrid learning to the Columbia School Board on Monday. Students would return in a series of four stages, with the youngest students being slated to return first.

This plan is a draft that depends on staffing, positivity rates and the 14-day case rate — the two-week rate per 10,000 people — overall and among ages 3 to 11.

  • The first phase would begin with pre-kindergarteners through first-graders, along with students with certain individual education plans.
  • The second would involve second- and third-graders.
  • The third would bring in fourth- and fifth-graders.
  • The final phase would lump middle and high schools together.

Stiepleman stressed the importance of including college residents in the 14-day rate, as 60% of MU students live off campus. He said because MU employs more than 8,000 people in the greater Columbia area, it would be impossible to separate the two rates.

The School Board also voted 7-0 to extend the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan for another year, though some had concerns about the wording of the equity statement.

“Our district continues to be a work in progress, and we are working on progress,” board president Helen Wade said.

Staffing

The district’s 14-day tracker recorded 78.4 cases per 10,000 people Monday, which is higher than the guideline of 50 cases the district put in place in August. In Boone County, the number of active cases Monday was 638.

“Our plan was designed to support between 5% and 10% positivity rates, not 44.5% positivity rates. Our children, our staff and their parents will all be quarantined,” Stiepleman said.

The district is working on protocols to help track student engagement.

“These are ways we are making sure that kids are not forgotten,” Stiepleman said.

The district is also grappling with how to keep teachers safe. If a teacher gets COVID-19 or is in contact with someone who has had it, they must quarantine. As of Monday, 130 CPS employees were in quarantine.

Fall sports

Fall athletics started their seasons, raising concerns from the public and board members alike.

Athletics returned in phases. The first phase, where the maximum number of players a team could have was 50, lasted from June 1-22. At that time, contact sports like baseball and football were not allowed, and competitions were limited to inter-county matchups.

“There is a difference in a 2-hour match or a 2-hour performance and a 7-hour school day,” Stiepleman said about the safety of sports when compared to in-person schooling.

In the second phase, which went from June 23 through July 3, 100 was the maximum number of players, and statewide competitions were allowed. At the time, Missouri’s curve was stable, according to a New York Times Missouri COVID-19 Map.

Sports then trended into the district’s fall plan, which includes facilities requiring masks, limited group sizes and daily prescreening and temperature checks.

Public Comment

A focus of public comment at the meeting was on special education students with individualized education plans, an IEP for short.

Sara Rivera has two sons in the district, one in kindergarten and one in third grade with an IEP.

Rivera’s third grade son has been having a hard time engaging in school due the loss of structure and in person learning. She said she has also seen his academic and interpersonal skills regress since in person learning ceased in March.

She is not the only parent having problems helping their student work with classes online. Meredith Becklenberg said she worries about her daughter being online for so long every day, as well figuring out how to navigate classes online.

Other concerns from parents included the stress of working full time and helping their children through online classes, the districts recording policy and the possibility of allowing Zoom for public comment.

“I don’t worry about my kindergartener being able to catch up, I know that he can catch up because he learns in a typical way,” Rivera said. “But my older son does not. This could set him back for the rest of his life.”

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

  • Education reporter, fall 2019 Studying print and digital journalism Reach me at kadthd@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

  • Molly Hart is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. She has previously reported on state government. She can be reached at mhart@mail.missouri.edu.

  • 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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