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Columbia Public School Board votes to lift its mask mandate

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The Columbia Public School Board voted Monday night to remove the district’s indoor mask mandate on district campuses effective January 4, 2022 – when students return from Winter Break.

The Board voted 4 to 3 to extend its 2021-22 Coronavirus mitigation plan with revisions to its mask mandate and quarantine protocols. Superintendent Brian Yearwood recommended the revisions, citing CDC guidance that students five years and older can now get vaccinated.

Starting next month, CPS students from Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade, will no longer have to wear masks inside district buildings.

However, the mask mandate revision does not apply to district transportation as federal mandates still require masks to be worn on school busses.

Meanwhile, quarantine protocols will only apply to COVID-positive or symptomatic students.

Just before the vote, Board President Helen Wade thanked her colleagues for coming together to make a tough decision.

“I will just briefly say we are at a bit of a crossroads,” she said. “I think that our district has done a phenomenal job of considering all of the resources of information available and making decisions that are in the best interest of our students, staff and patrons. This is a difficult decision. And I appreciate all of your willingness to serve and to sit up here and make that decision.”

Board members David Seamon, Jeanne Snodgrass and Katherine Sasser voted against the motion.

Ahead of the Board’s vote, Snodgrass proposed the January 4 date be moved to Feb. 14 to allow CPS students the chance to be fully vaccinated after the final vaccination clinics at CPS schools close on January 28.

Seamon supported Snodgrass’ motion, pointing to the need for better vaccine accessibility for CPS students.

“We knew that masks are going to eventually need to go away,” he said. “I agree with Ms. Snodgrass that providing the opportunity for our marginalized communities to be able to have access to the vaccine is important. We have an equity statement for a reason. I think that we should continue to follow it.”

The motion by Seamon and Snodgrass motion failed to pass – leaving the effective date as January 4.

During public comment, the majority of people spoke against extending the district’s mask mandate.

Leah Davidson, a junior at Hickman High School, was one of three students who spoke against the mask mandate. She said that she is a fully vaccinated student, and feels other students should have the option to choose whether or not to wear a mask.

Meanwhile, Mary Ratcliff, President of Columbia’s NAACP, thanked the Board for their work and encouraged members to extend the mask mandate once again.

“I want my grandchildren to be safe,” she said. “I hope that you all will stay the course and know that the majority of Columbia agrees with you. Do what is best for the students and the community.”

The mask mandate has been in place since the beginning of the school year in mid-August and has been extended at each school board meeting this year as part of its school year’s mitigation plan.

Although not discussed at the meeting, the recent revisions come days after Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent letters to the school district demanding it end its mask requirements and COVID-19 mitigations.