To the Columbia School Board and administration:
As a concerned parent, I am writing to ask you to lead by example.
At this time, it appears the community and Columbia Public Schools are expecting students and faculty to return to in-person classes in four weeks. However, I have noticed that the Aslin Administration Building is currently not open.
Aslin is one of the newer buildings with one of the better ventilation systems in the district, a building that houses adults with fairly easy ability to appropriately socially distance.
It is a building where the employees are all grown-ups who can practice good hygiene and wear their masks. And yet, this building has the employees working from home.
The optics here are not good. If it is safe for kids and teachers to return to schools, why are district employees of the administration building not working in their building?
So, as I said at the start of this letter, I am asking you all to lead by example. Recently on KMIZ/ABC17, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said there will be a board meeting in August to discuss, among other things, the reopening of schools Aug. 25.
Here is something you can do to both lead by example and to show you strongly you feel that it is safe for our kids and teachers to return: Have your next board meeting at a school, in a classroom!
The meeting should be one of our older buildings, where the classrooms are tiny and the ventilation systems are sub-par. I would suggest Jefferson Middle School, third floor, old tower.
Everyone can sit in the chairs in the room exactly as they are because we all know most classrooms won’t have 6 feet of space between kids.
And anyway, you only have to worry about those people seated directly around you. As the FAQs for the district reopening plan indicate, those few desks directly around you in the classroom are the only people counted in your “stable group” — and the teacher, of course.
Open the board meeting to the public until all 30 chairs are full. On KMIZ, Stiepleman referenced the safety measures the district will be “layering,” which included smaller class sizes.
However, Assistant Superintendent Jen Rukstad made it clear in a Zoom webinar for parents in June about the virtual/in-person options that smaller class sizes would likely not be possible.
In any event, fill up that meeting room in August until the desks are full. That is how it will be when school starts: random groups of kids in classrooms based on a computer-generated set of schedules.
If there is overflow attendance at the meeting, let people hang out in the hallways; we can see how social distancing will work in those circumstances. Oh, wait! The hallways won’t necessarily be areas where social distancing is going to be required.
When the meeting starts, get down to work! Keep those masks on! Face forward! When you finish the meeting, wipe your chair down for the next “class” and leave the room, taking care to be socially distanced if you can.
If you, as the board members, board office employees and members of the community who want to attend the board meeting are willing to do this and feel good about it, feel as if you had a successful and productive meeting, then by all means, push forward with holding in-person classes for the district.
But if you hesitate for even a moment about holding your entire board meeting in a closed space, then you know what you have to do — postpone the return to in-person education.
So, I’m waiting to see you put your actions where your words are. I’m waiting to see if you will lead by example.
Lisa Boyer is a proud Columbia Public Schools graduate, CPS retired teacher, parent of two CPS graduates and three current CPS students.