The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous disruptions for school districts across the United States.
With little notice, school and district leaders have had to address a wide range of challenges related to delivering online instruction, providing meals to students, ensuring board meetings can proceed and deciding whether to cancel or postpone events. Most recently, we have seen a number of governors announce school closures that will last the rest of the school year.
Unfortunately, we know that COVID-19 will likely be with us for many more months, if not longer. This means superintendents, administrators and school boards will need to make tough decisions this spring, summer and well into fall.
To help manage the communication that will need to take place between school districts and their stakeholders, we have created this COVID-19 Communication Roadmap for School Leaders. This is an evolving document, and we encourage you to use the sample messages and suggested communication tactics contained within it.
Below is a rundown of some of the issues school districts will need to address in the weeks and months ahead:
This spring, school leaders will need to make important decisions regarding their graduation ceremonies. Depending on where your district is located and the timing of the event, you may need to cancel or postpone, or you may choose to hold a virtual event to avoid a large gathering. For most districts in the United States, this decision will need to be made between now and mid-May.
While school buildings remain closed, most school districts continue to provide meals to students during the week. This may take the form of setting up a pick-up station, using school buses to deliver meals and/or working with community partners to distribute meals. Regardless of the specifics, education leaders should clearly communicate how families can access meals for their children.
This spring, many school boards are creating and finalizing a budget for the 2020-21 school year. This work is largely taking place via Zoom and other online meeting platforms. District leaders and board members should work to maintain transparency around the budgeting process, while speaking to how the district is planning based on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the spring closures, school and district leaders have been fielding many questions from teachers and staff regarding how they should complete professional development requirements. It is important to determine answers to these questions and communicate with staff as promptly as possible. This can help ease staff members’ concerns that they will need to scramble to complete PD requirements before the end of the school year.
Technology access and distribution
Ensuring all students have the technology and internet access they need to engage in online learning is an enormous challenge for school districts—especially those in rural areas and those that have a large number of low-income families. While many district leaders are already grappling with this issue, it is something that may need to be addressed if some form of school closures remain in effect in fall 2020.
School board meetings
School districts continue to find ways to hold school board meetings virtually, using platforms like Zoom and Skype. While this can present some challenges, especially in the form of technology glitches and access issues, it does allow board meetings to proceed. In holding virtual meetings, districts and boards must ensure community members can “attend” the meetings and make public comments, just as they would during a typical board meeting.
Recruitment and hiring
The process districts use to hire teachers and staff may look a little different this spring and summer, especially if social distancing and shelter-in-place guidelines remain in effect. Both internal and external stakeholders may have questions about how the district plans to hire staff in the middle of the pandemic.
Back to school
Although it is becoming clear that few school districts nationwide will welcome students back to school by the end of the current school year, it is not yet clear whether in-person classes will be held to start in fall 2020. This decision will be made by each state’s governor and Department of Education.
School district leaders must be prepared for (1) having students back in school buildings, with elevated precautionary measures likely in place, and (2) implementing virtual learning to start the school year—with the possibility that school buildings will open again sometime in late fall or winter.
Athletics and extracurriculars
Another significant issue of concern for students and families is whether athletics and extracurricular activities will resume in the fall. This decision will likely be tied to orders from your state’s governor, Department of Education and/or athletic association. Some schools may be allowed open for instruction, but after-school activities and events will be suspended. School and district leaders must be prepared to communicate regardless of the situation.
While the items above are some of the most pressing issues requiring school and district leaders’ attention, they are likely not the only ones you will need to confront. With any decision you make, it will be important to communicate clearly, quickly and accurately with your parents, staff, students and community members.
Learn more and find free templates for communicating by visiting our Coronavirus Communication Resource page. If you would like further guidance on how you can best communicate about coronavirus in your school or district, contact the Donovan Group.