Both public and private school districts across the country are starting to close schools for an extended period of time. Many states are now mandating that schools close for at least the next couple weeks. We would like to share a plan of action you can implement to communicate about coronavirus-related school closures to your school and district community.
As soon as you have made the decision to close schools due to coronavirus concerns, you should start communicating. In fact, you will need to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to communication. It’s helpful to have several staff members you can rely on to assist with these efforts.
Below we provide a response plan that references templates we have created. You may access the templates here. Please feel free to review and use these templates as you see fit. Also note that the following response plan assumes coordination with your local health department.
(1) If you have an auto-messenger service that calls and/or texts parents and delivers a message to them, use it.
This is a highly effective and efficient way to alert a wide audience in a short period of time. A sample script is included in this template document for your reference or use. Tell parents and guardians to go to your school or district’s website for more information, and provide them with your school’s web address in your message.
(2) Update your school or district’s website with as much information as possible.
Create a page dedicated solely to the coronavirus and keep it updated with everything you know. The Seattle Public Schools offers a great example. Draft web copy is included in our templates, as well.
If you can, include information on if or how students will have access to e-learning opportunities while regular school is not in session.
(3) Send an email to all teachers and staff.
Explain to teachers and staff what they should do if they feel ill or develop any COVID-19 symptoms. Direct them to the district’s coronavirus web page and the CDC website for more information.
Provide specific guidance on the preparation and implementation of e-learning for students.
(4) Send an email to all parents and guardians.
Send an email to parents notifying them that school will be canceled moving forward or after a specific date. Include information on what they should do if a member of their family feels ill or develops coronavirus symptoms. If applicable, let them know that their child’s teachers will be following up with e-learning instruction in the hours or days to come.
Be sure to add the message to the district’s coronavirus-specific web page.
(5) Post an update to social media.
Using the same message you sent to parents and guardians, publish a status update to Facebook, Twitter and any other district social media platforms.
(6) Post signs on all school doors.
Post signs on each exterior school door providing information about the school’s closing and notifying visitors that no one will be allowed in the building for the time being.
(7) Send a statement to the local media.
A school closing due to coronavirus concerns will capture the local media’s attention, likely resulting in your phone ringing off the hook with calls from reporters. Issuing a news release or statement with relevant information about your school closure may provide reporters with the information they need to write their stories and will help you to manage the influx.
You will still receive phone calls, but many reporters’ questions will already be answered. Thus, you won’t have to keep repeating yourself every time you speak with a reporter.
(8) Answer your phone and return all calls.
After completing steps one through seven, you probably think you are done communicating. Think again. By this time, your office phone probably has not stopped ringing and your voicemail is full of messages from concerned parents and staff.
Make a point of contacting every person who calls you and send a follow up to anyone who emails you. If you need help, ask others in your office to help you respond. If you fail to return calls and answer questions and/or concerns, it could be perceived as an effort to dismiss people’s concerns or avoid answering questions.
To make this process go as smoothly as possible, create a call script that contains the answers to the most commonly asked questions. A script for this purpose is included in our template document.