CPS Board of Education votes to update COVID-19 efforts, remove masks Jan. 4

Principal+Sirna+presenting+sophomore+Andrew+Hauser+at+the+CPS+board+meeting+Dec.+13.+Hauser+holds+the+record+for+the+fastest+cross+country+time+of+any+high+school+student+in+Missouri+history.

Nehemiah Belay

Principal Sirna presenting sophomore Andrew Hauser at the CPS board meeting Dec. 13. Hauser holds the record for the fastest cross country time of any high school student in Missouri history.

Zay Yontz, Staff Writer

The Columbia Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education voted to revise the current COVID-19 mitigation policy Dec. 13. The revised plan will remove mask mandates in schools, but will still require them on buses. The plan will go into effect after winter break on Jan. 4.

CPS superintendent Dr. Brian Yearwood prepared the revised resolution, and after discussion from the board members and public comment, the Board voted 4-3 in favor of removing the mask mandate in schools. Dr. Yearwood proposed the updated plan because of the increasing vaccination rates and said he hopes the removal of the masks will lead to a better educational environment. 

“I think it’ll give [students] more choice and be able to allow them to continue to be successful academically.” Dr. Yearwood said. “What we hope to see is that we continue the in-seat learning opportunities that exist by giving them more choice, because now there should be a higher level of vaccinations possible.”

Board member David Seamon proposed a second adaptation of the plan. He wanted the removal of masks to begin on Feb. 14. After discussing with other board members, Seamon said the plan was brought up in hopes of increasing the rates and accessibility of vaccinations.

“We know we have a number of students in our district who don’t have access to pharmacies and don’t have access to cars to get the shot,” Seamon said. “We’re offering [the vaccine] in our spirit. Now, I think we have an obligation to allow them the opportunity to get it or we allow people to come back to school.” 

I think it’ll give [students] more choice and be able to allow them to continue to be successful academically. What we hope to see is that we continue the in-seat learning opportunities that exist by giving them more choice, because now there should be a higher level of vaccinations possible.”

— Dr. Brian Yearwood, CPS superintendent

Seamon’s plan was voted down 4-3 after statements from public comments urged the Board to remove the mask mandate immediately. Many parents and a few students came to share their opinion about the mask requirements. Hickman High School junior, Leah Davison, chose to speak about masks at both the last board meeting, Nov. 8, and the most recent one. 

“I’ve seen [how] I’ve been affected [and] by how others around me have been affected. I think that everyone around me has been affected,” Davison said. “Making a change is what’s best and not just going by what I see my peers doing.”

Seamon said students and board members alike believe the removal of the requirement won’t have a drastic impact on the student body because they will still have the choice to still wear them, Seamon said. 

“Whether they were wearing masks or not, they’re still gonna come to school, they’re gonna hang out with their friends,” Seamon said. “They’re gonna do 15, 16 [and] 17 year old things. I think our students will be fine.”

The attorney general of Missouri, Eric Schmitt, sent letters to many school districts and health agencies in Missouri to address the mask mandates. Schmitt argues that schools do not have the authority to implement masks and other COVID-19 mitigation policies according to The Missouri Times Many people saw the letters as an opportunity to speak at the meeting because they had more reasons to remove the masks Davison said.

“I was going to come speak anyway. But having [Schmitt’s letters] made me want to more— [students] are more willing to speak [about the mask requirements at the board meeting],” Davison said. “I had more evidence that they need to get rid of them and that they felt a little bit more pressured than just parents who should have already been having the rights.”

Dr. Yearwood said the Board of Education isn’t able to predict if the masks could possibly come back. They are waiting on the numbers from vaccination rates and COVID-19 cases to determine future decisions and will continue to do so after the plan is enacted Jan. 4.

“I can’t say for sure, because the board will have to make that determination. But we want the idea to make sure that our scholars are safe,” Dr. Yearwood said. “We will have to do whatever mitigation is needed to keep our scholarship [safe] so I can’t say if they’re gonna return or not return. We’re just gonna have to look at it at that point in time.” 

What do you think about the removal of masks? Let us know in the comments below.