As of today, there have been few reported cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in U.S. public schools. However, as time goes on, it’s likely that increasing numbers of school districts will need to address confirmed cases. Below is a response plan for communicating with district stakeholders if the situation arises.
The first and most important thing you should do if you have a confirmed case of coronavirus in your schools is to start communicating — and quickly. In fact, clear your schedule and focus all your energy on communicating.
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.
(3) Send an email to staff, providing them with a full list of the symptoms of coronavirus.
Explain to them 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.
(4) Send an email to parents/guardians.
Send an email to parents notifying them that there has been a confirmed coronavirus case and that school will be canceled effective immediately. Include what they should do if a member of their family feels ill or develops coronavirus symptoms.
To ensure you reach as many families as possible, we also suggest sending a physical letter home with students, or handing the letter to parents as they pick up their children. Also, add the message to the district’s coronavirus-specific web page.
(5) Post signs on all school doors.
Post signs on each exterior school door providing information about the school’s closing and notifying visitors that there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19.
(6) Send a statement to the local media.
A school closing as a result of coronavirus 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 a story 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.
(7) Answer your phone and return all calls.
After completing steps one through six, 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. 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.