© 2024 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Despite unprecedented spike in COVID cases, Columbia Public School Board avoids subject

Despite an unprecedented spike in COVID cases, during its regular session Monday night the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education did not revisit its decision to drop its mask requirement earlier this month. The board decided during its last regular session in December to remove its mask requirement effective January 4.

Monday's meeting was the first regular session since August to not include a review of its coronavirus policy on the agenda. The only mention of COVID from a board member came from Katherine Sasser, who drew attention to the omission.

“I was disappointed not to see a COVID update on tonight’s meeting," she said. "I would like to ask the administration that at our next work session we have a COVID update and that we also include COVID updates for as long as there is COVID protocols and issues in the district.”

Boone County has seen record highs in active cases in the past week, with more than 2,000 active cases as of Monday afternoon, and more than 140 hospitalizations. While the board did not include COVID in its agenda, other speakers at Monday night's meeting did broach the subject.

During an update from the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, President Noelle Gilzow said educators and students alike are concerned about the virus and the decision to drop the mask requirement. According to Gilzow, a recent survey of its members showed, "overwhelming support for a return to the policies in place before winter break, with monthly board reviews."

Gilzow also said CMNEA has heard concerns about safety from substitutes, which she said has exacerbated staffing shortages as teachers and substitutes test positive.

New confirmed COVID cases among Columbia Public Schools students reached all-time highs at the end of December and through the start of January.
Columbia Public Schools
New confirmed COVID cases among Columbia Public Schools students reached all-time highs at the end of December and through the start of January.

As of Monday, 54 CPS staff members were out, either having tested positive for COVID or quarantining after an exposure. The sub fill rate, which describes how many substitutes are available to meet the need fell to 60.9% last week — the lowest it's been in more than a year.

Cases among students have hit all time highs in the past month, with 226 students out of school Monday. Students at Hickman High School staged a walk-outahead of the board meeting, to protest the change in policy.

While school board meetings in the past months have seen lengthy public comment sessions, with parents speaking out for and against masking rules, Monday's meeting only saw three public comments. The last came from a CPS parent named Rebecca Shaw, who asked the board to reinstate its mask requirements.

"With no discussion planned on the agenda tonight, you've sent us a message that CPS isn't listening," Shaw said.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia was a health reporter at KBIA and is documentary filmmaker who focuses on access to care in rural and immigrant communities. A native Spanish speaker and lifelong Missouri resident, Sebastián is interested in the often overlooked and under-covered world of immigrant life in the rural midwest. He has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in documentary journalism at the same institution. Aside from public health, his other interests include conservation, climate change and ecology.