Teachers returning to classes Monday are concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19 in schools and the community and about what they believe is a lack of adequate sanitation and other supplies, said the head of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association.

Supply concerns by teachers also prompted the creation of a GoFundMe account that had raised $411 as of 5 p.m. Saturday night. Questions about air filtration, supplies and sanitation prompted CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark to release a detailed account of supplies and sanitation efforts Friday.

“We definitely have teachers that are concerned about their own health and that of their families,” said Kathy Steinhoff, president of the Columbia MNEA. “(Teachers are) just hoping that everything’s going to be okay.”

Among them is teacher Amanda Horn, who teaches kindergarten and first grade at Ridgeway Elementary School. Horn said via email that she is worried about “bringing COVID home to my husband, my children or my mother, who has heart disease. She made her last trip to visit her grandkids today because my risk of exposure will be increased. The survival rate is high, yes, but once someone in your family dies the number doesn’t mean a thing.”

Horn’s husband, Columbia School Board member Chris Horn, was among three members who voted last week against sending elementary students back to school. 

"If we can't provide a safe environment, we can't educate," he said on the night of the vote. 

Steinhoff said the board surprised teachers when it voted to send kindergarten through fifth grade students back to school instead of the kindergarten through second grade students teachers expected.

“I know the board had been asking to return more students earlier, but we did not foresee that it would be to this scale,” she said.

Those students will also be seated less than the 6 feet apart that is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scott Clardy, assistant director of Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department, called this “less than ideal.”

The standard 6 feet for social distancing came from studies that showed droplets can travel 5-6 feet. Clardy said that distance is shorter for children.

“I don’t think it represents as much of a threat as if two adults were within a foot and a half of each other,” he said.

Rebecca Shaw, a co-leader of CoMo for Progress, started the GoFundMe effort after she said she was contacted by teachers concerned not only about returning to classes, but also about a lack of needed sanitation supplies.

DogMaster Distillery offered to donate about 100 gallons of hand sanitizers to the schools, said owner Van Hawxby.

MacKenzie Everette-Kennedy, a Hickman High School English teacher, said she is grateful for the local support.

“Teachers are nervous about going back to school, especially now the COVID numbers are on the rise,” Everette-Kennedy said. “We need a little bit more from the communities right now.”

Baumstark sent an email Friday detailing a number of supplies purchased since March, including 30,000 disposable masks and 3,000 8-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer. Buses have cleaning sanitizer materials aboard, and all “high-touch surfaces in the classroom and throughout the building will be continuously cleaned,” according to the email.

Elementary students are to eat lunch in their classrooms, said Steinhoff, as opposed to the CDC recommendation of eating outdoors or while social distancing.

Steinhoff said the district has a good supply of masks, but that supply will run low as students come to school without them.

“We believe we’re ready to go,” Baumstark told the Missourian on Friday.

  • Education reporter, fall 2020. Studying Strategic Communication. You can reach me at evaqian@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

  • Community reporter, fall 2020. Studying magazine editing. Reach me at abbey.tauchen@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

  • 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.

  • Executive editor and Missouri Community Newspaper Management Chair

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