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Photo by Desmond Kisida.

Board of education votes to return students to in-person school

T he Columbia Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education voted 5-2 for elementary students to return to a four-day in-person schedule, and secondary students to return to a hybrid, two-day schedule at their monthly regular session on Jan. 11. The transition to in-person and hybrid learning is set to take place on Jan. 19. RBHS physics teacher Malcom Smith said he does not expect the quality of his curriculum to change, as it was meticulously built before the year started.

“This next semester we have been ‘mandated’ by the CPS Science Coordinator to use the curriculum and materials built by a committee of physics teachers from all four CPS high schools. Since all four high schools have all been teaching the exact same course since freshman physics was created back in the day, I’m sure the quality of the materials will be impeccable,” Smith said. 

Superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman. Photo by Desmond Kisida.

Smith taught Advanced Placement (AP) Physics 1 and 2 first semester as per CPS guidelines. Although Smith said he is confident in teaching his curriculum in a hybrid format, he is hesitant to return as COVID-19 cases increase.

With the numbers in Boone County being worse now than they were at the start of the year and with the new virus mutation slowly making its way through the general population,” Smith said, “I really thought the decision was obvious and we would stay virtual this next semester.”

During their regular session meetings, the Board of Education takes public comment from community members before voting on a motion. This session, the board heard from two teachers unions, the Missouri State Teachers Association and the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association (CMSTA). Ariel Shwarting, a public relations representative from CMSTA, said elementary teachers are in favor of returning to in-person classes, while secondary teachers are not.

“In our survey from elementary-level teachers, we heard from 140 of our members. 40% of them said no [to an in-person return],” Shwarting said in her public comment. “52% of elementary-level educators would be comfortable with an in-seat return of some sort.”

Board of Education President Helen Wade. Photo by Desmond Kisida.

Shwarting said secondary teachers are hesitant to return in-person as college students return for spring semester and county reported COVID-19 cases increase. Although Dr. Della Streaty-Wilhoit, a board member, voted to stay virtual at all previous meetings, she said at the meeting the board must take mental health of students into account.

“I completely understand that the numbers dictate to remain virtual, we must balance our decision with common sense. Understanding the events and the measures we’ve taken have given me cause to pause and look at the decision I have made,” Dr. Streaty-Wilhoit said.  “As a social scientist, I have to take into consideration the mental health of the community.”

Streaty-Wilhoit’s decision to support a transition to in-person was to help mitigate the mental health effects that come with learning virtually. Smith believes returning to a physical classroom will do the opposite and cause both teachers and students more stress.

Who is most affected? Not the Board of Education members. The kids will be affected.  The teachers with kids will be affected. The tracking and quarantine requirements will make everyday a mess.” Smith said. “But the best part will be telling the 5% of the kids to either put on a mask or to pull it up over their nose.” Smith also said although he is frustrated with the board, RBHS administration has done well in accommodating the teacher’s virtual needs.

“For me personally, Admin at RBHS has been very supportive all year.  We just got new laptops which are a huge improvement from the standard issue laptops we got three years ago” Smith said. “There has been a small but steady staff of teachers here that have been teaching out of their rooms this last semester. It’s been like living in a sci-fi movie.”

What do you think of the decision? Let us know in the comments below.

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