The Columbia Board of Education voted Monday night to delay the start of school to Sept. 8. The board also added the option of an in-person hybrid learning model.
The new calendar now has the year beginning Sept. 8 and ending June 11. Previously, the district was set to begin the school year Aug. 25.
With approval of the in-person hybrid learning model, the district now has three options for the upcoming school year: in-person, online and in-person hybrid.
The online model allows students to learn using an alternative method of instruction. The hybrid model allows students in-person instruction half of the week while online for the remainder of the week. When Health Department recommendations allow, the in-person option lets students learn in school buildings.
While using the hybrid model, students will be separated into two groups by last name with allowances for siblings and proximity. The group would go to school in-person either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. When students are not in school in-person, they will be instructed online.
Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said he received many emails from parents advocating for a full return to school.
“Many have advocated that in some way we are surrendering to fear. We are not,” he said, “The CDC, like us, recognize that there is a real concern from parents and staff concerning a safe return to school.”
The district will be making its decision on which plan to push forward based on local Health Department guidance. Stiepleman said the district will have a better grasp on what the school year will look like closer to Aug. 31, when the Health Department reviews current regulations.
A daily mode indicator will be used by the school to communicate with employees and the public about the level of restriction of access to school buildings through text and email. The indicator ranges from Level 1, traditional or in-person school, to Level 5, all online or alternative method of instruction.
“I’m thrilled. I just don’t think it would have been safe,” Columbia Missouri National Education Association President Kathy Steinhoff said. “I am happy there is a plan in place.”
The district plans to adopt a model similar to the Minnesota model, which allows full-time in-person classes when the 14-day case rate per 10,000 people is less than 10, the hybrid model when the case rate is between 10 and 49 and completely online when the rate of new cases is at or more than 50.
The district received $2.5 million of the $21 million Boone County was allocated from the federal CARES act. Chief Financial Officer Heather McArthur said it will be used to cover additional transportation and technology costs, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The board also unanimously approved an agreement with Boone County to provide hotspots for the use of Columbia Public Schools and other Boone County school districts due to the impacts of the pandemic. The hotspots do not cost schools and the cost of the agreement — $322,800 — will be reimbursed through the CARES funding.
In a letter to the board, Stiepleman said he believes technology is a public infrastructure issue.
“Hotspots, specifically, can mean the difference between a child accessing school or not,” Stiepleman said.
Northern District Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson compared internet access in the 21st century to access to electricity in the 20th century.
“We’re talking about getting rid of some of the disparities that happen,” she said.
Elementary attendance zone options were presented to the board Monday as well. In light of the pandemic, the board passed a motion to postpone changes to the attendance areas until fall 2021.
The boundary changes are “an intense and emotional” process, said board member Teresa Maledy.
“I think there is so much on everybody’s (mind) right now that it would be difficult for them to really to focus on this,” Maledy said. “It would be unfair at this point to ask.”