Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Brian Yearwood reported an all-time high of COVID-19 cases among Missouri students aged 5-11 in September.

"CPS continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation continuously and closely and continues to collaborate with health professionals to put in place proper mitigation strategies," Yearwood said at a Columbia School Board meeting Thursday.

Yearwood presented information from the state departments of Health and Senior Services and Elementary and Secondary Education. The information displayed a consistent increase from March 2020 to now and a notable spike in cases this month.

A chart from the presentation indicates previous statewide spikes in November 2020 and August 2021, both of which were lower than the September peak.

Elementary students, many of whom fall in the 5-11 age range, had the highest rate of student infections in the district as of Thursday morning, according to the district's COVID-19 tracker. Of the 43 students with the virus, 21 were elementary students, and 154 elementary students were in quarantine. Most elementary schools are affected.

Students younger than 12 remain ineligible for the vaccine.

This August, Boone County saw its highest number of COVID-19 cases in children up to age 19, and MU Women's and Children's Hospital had an increase in children hospitalized for COVID-19 this fall. More than 450 COVID-19 cases were recorded for residents 19 and younger in August, compared to 36 cases for the same age group in May, according to Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services.

Nationally, there have been over 5 million cases in children since April 2020, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Because of a lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt over the district's mask mandate, spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said the district is unable right now to provide additional data that has not been publicly released through the district tracker or in past board presentations. For this reason, a comparison between cases on the first day of school and Thursday could not be calculated. 

Coronavirus plan finalized

Also Thursday, the School Board formally issued its 2021-2022 Coronavirus Plan. The plan, unanimously approved Sept. 13, includes extending the district's mask mandate and other mitigation strategies to combat the spread of the delta variant.

"This plan demonstrates CPS's commitment to in-person instruction," School Board President Helen Wade said.

During public comment, science teacher Noelle Gilzow, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, praised the board for implementing the plan and requiring masking.

"Thank you for considering the science and the professionals in these areas in your determination," she said.

COVID-related bus charters

By unanimous approval (with two members missing) of the consent agenda, the School Board accepted requests from Rock Bridge and Battle high schools to enter charter contracts with Doc and Norm Direct for transportation to athletic competitions. According to a brief on the agenda written by Helen Porter, assistant superintendent for secondary education, the request for use of the charter buses stems from the shortage of bus drivers amid the pandemic.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, the School Board approved Rock Bridge's entrance in seven previous contracts with Doc and Norm Direct, totaling $13,554 in expenses. Thursday, Rock Bridge was approved to enter four more contracts with the company, adding an additional $8,943 to the overall cost. Battle will enter a $3,795 contract for a softball team trip to Springfield, Missouri, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.

The contracts will be financed by extracurricular activity funds, donations and fundraising.

  • Youth reporter, fall 2021. Studying international journalism. Reach me at sofizeman@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

  • Columbia Youth beat reporter. Junior studying writing and reporting. I can be reached at Mattmcfarland@mail.missouri.edu or reach the newsroom at 882-5720.

  • 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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