Chairs stacked on desks in classroom

Boone County is home to the fifth largest school district in Missouri. The Columbia Public School District services over 19,000 students in 40 buildings that span 3.5 million square feet. Fortunately, the county hasn't experienced the spikes in COVID-19 cases that other areas of the country have seen. But that hasn't slowed the progress of preventative measures.

Since early on, district administration, the Boone County Health Department, and the state and local government have worked closely through this ordeal. Early recommendations to practice social distancing, wear masks, close non-essential businesses, restrict essential businesses to reduced occupancy, and ban visitors from hospitals and nursing homes were all in place.

Then, on May 4, Boone County lifted many of the restrictions, allowing most businesses to re-open, but with some provisos still in place. All the while, school officials throughout the district were busy outlining what a safe and healthy return to school process looked like.

Initial Impact

Back in March, the district made the decision to close all schools to in-person learning for three weeks. All students were sent home to learn virtually and all district staff who were considered non-essential worked from home, as well.

My custodial and warehouse staff were deemed essential employees and immediately went to work cleaning and disinfecting all spaces. Our initial disinfectant cleaning was based on guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which required a full three weeks to complete.

This was a major project to overcome. I was really amazed with the efforts of our staff and the hard work they put forth in order to achieve this goal. Keep in mind, there was a chance our district may bring students and staff back for class in May and summer school in June. Conversations were ongoing.

I was part of our Incident Command Center, which held weekly meetings. It was amazing to learn how any possible decision had an effect on multiple people/departments — custodial, information technology (IT), nutrition services, principals, secretaries, human resources, the business office and more. As a result, every department or group worked together to discuss the impact of resuming in-person education in May, June summer school, potentially moving summer school to July and whether or not to start school early in August. In the end, the best decision for everyone was to plan for school to resume as normal on Aug. 25.

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