Columbia Public Schools need more replacement teachers as they prepare to bring students of all grades back into the classroom on Tuesday for the first time since last spring.

Elementary school students were briefly back in the classroom last fall before rising coronavirus case rates and infections and staff exposures brought them back online.

Middle and high school students have not been in the classroom since the coronavirus pandemic began last spring.

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the pool for substitute teachers is large, but that number is deceptive.

“The problem is that of the substitutes that are in the pool, hundreds, there are only a very limited number that indicate they would be willing to become substitutes during a pandemic,” Baumstark said. “Of those who agreed, even fewer accepted vacancies.”

CPS resumes classes as the state begins the next phase of its coronavirus vaccination program. The program has four phases, and Governor Mike Parson said Thursday that more than 190,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine had been given.

Employees who are part of the state’s Phase 1A group have started getting their Covid-19 vaccinations, including school nurses or employees who deal directly with medically vulnerable children.

The rest of the teaching staff falls into phase 1B. It is not currently clear when CPS faculty may have access to vaccines.

Ariel Schwarting, a third grade elementary teacher, said her school plans to use University of Missouri student teachers when possible. The student teachers will be admitted to CPS schools on January 25th.

“They’ll know our classrooms, they’ll know our students,” said Schwarting. “This will be helpful for the kids as no outside person comes in and they can still have meaningful study with these MU students.”

Schwarting said replacement shortages are always a problem – especially during a pandemic.

Baumstark said Tuesday will be treated as a “first day” for students, especially middle and high school students.

“Our children will have great first days back,” said Baumstark. “We’re going to look at the socio-emotional parts of it and teach them the routine like we do at the beginning of each school year.”

More than 400 CPS students have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and nearly 1,800 have been quarantined, according to the district figures published online. More than 200 employees have tested positive and nearly 600 have been quarantined for exposure to the virus.

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