Bar exam brings in hundreds of students, despite occupancy limits

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COLUMBIA — About 700 students are scheduled to take the Missouri bar exam next week, despite pandemic concerns over large gatherings. 

The two-day exam will be held in the Tan-Tar-A Conference Center in Osage Beach and at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia.

“It really boiled down to their operational plan and their assurance to keep all individuals at a safe distance—6 feet apart—face masks, frequent disinfection,” Michelle Shikles, public health promotion supervisor for Boone County Health, said. “Under those circumstances, we feel like it’s as safe as possible.”

During a previous phase of reopening, event organizers were able to submit requests to hold an event with more than 100 people, as long as they submitted a thorough safety plan. 

The Missouri Board of Law Examiners received one of these exemptions after submitting a plan.

The Columbia/Boone County Health Department is no longer approving capacity limit exemptions for events, given the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

The health department considered rescinding the bar exam's capacity approval, but the test is still moving ahead.

"We have looked at it, and we just feel we have mitigated as much risk as possible," Shikles said.

Some law students are worried about the possibility of exposure. 

“I really do not like that I have to go to this exam and possibly get killed or have my family get killed,” a recent MU law school grad said.

The student wished to stay unnamed out of fear of retaliation.

Students taking the exam will remain in the same room for six hours.

Lyrissa Lidsky, dean of MU’s law school, said the choice places students in a hard position.

“They are really facing some very difficult choices about their financial wellbeing versus their own health and safety, and the safety of those around them,” Lidsky said.

72 MU law students will take the exam at the Columbia location. However, Lidsky said several other students told her they will not be taking it this year.

"I have some indication that some of our students are going to delay their exam in light of the conditions right now to protect their loved ones or protect themselves," Lidsky said. 

Those students who opt-out will not be able to take the bar exam until its next administered date—February 2021.

"It may be postponing getting certain types of law jobs," Lidsky said. "It is a huge, huge impact on the student to have to wait six months."

Law students, who already have job offers lined up, are required to complete the exam before starting their job.

"Most people have jobs lined up for August," one MU law school graduate said. "So no, there's not a possibility. I'm going to be taking that exam next week."