Donovan Group Insights

The Pandemic is Over, But its Effects Linger

The past three years have been tough on us all. Your school district pulled through, and with talk of an endemic among experts, a brighter future is within sight. Whether COVID-19 is technically an endemic or not, one thing is certain: the pandemic is nearing its end.

As we head into this post-pandemic era, district administrators should take a long hard look at their current pandemic policies. Chances are, a lot of them need to change. And there’s no guarantee that stakeholders will take that change well. Administrators must figure out not only how to change existing policies, but how to effectively communicate those changes to stakeholders.

Let’s take a closer look at the pandemic’s current state and how your district can implement policy changes while maintaining stakeholder support.

COVID is endemic but not over yet

A growing number of infectious disease experts agree that COVID-19 has entered its endemic phase. In the United States, positive cases have remained steady with no new variants for over a year. Experts have also cited societal changes that are indicative of an endemic, such as eliminating masks, attending crowded events and an overall acceptance of the virus.

However, there are still many infectious disease experts who say we’re not quite there yet. These experts are hesitant to declare an endemic because there’s less information about COVID-19’s effects on developing countries. And in the United States, it’s hard to know the exact number of positive cases due to the increased use of home testing kits. The virus could, in theory, be more prevalent in our local communities than we might think.

While experts debate its endemic status, they largely agree on one thing: COVID-19 is still a problem. In March 2023, the United States experienced a daily average of 255 deaths and over 22,000 hospitalizations. These numbers sit far above flu season. With cases still so high, it’s clear that the pandemic continues to affect us and the people in our communities.

Numbers aside, COVID-19 has not been easily forgotten. The pandemic lingers in people’s minds, whether through the loss of a loved one or lasting health complications. Endemic or not, we’re living in the fallout of a post-pandemic world. The way we move forward must be handled with care.

What does this mean for schools?

Much like the ongoing medical debates, stakeholders have conflicting stances about the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are pushing for the old normal while others still fear for the safety of their children. District pandemic policies are simultaneously too strict and too lax. As we recover from the pandemic, administrators are realizing that existing policies need to change. Knowing how to change them is the hard part.

Try as they might, district administrators can’t make everyone happy. Tightening policies will upset one group, but relaxing them will upset another. And, if you try to make everyone happy, you’ll end up making nobody happy. It seems like no matter what you do, more than a handful of stakeholders will be left feeling unsatisfied with the district’s actions.

Don’t let this discourage you! You can’t make everyone happy, but you can at least explain how and why the district is changing certain pandemic policies. While it’s important to listen to stakeholders, their input won’t give you a clear-cut decision. At the end of the day, your administrative team has to do what they feel is best for the district. Trust your judgment, make a decision and back it up with confidence.

Not sure how to change your district’s pandemic policies? Remember this: always keep the students’ best interests at heart. Their health, safety and wellbeing are much bigger priorities than attempting to satisfy every stakeholder’s individual preference. As you revisit current policies, consider which changes would yield the greatest benefit for students’ health and quality of education. Do what’s best for the students, and you can’t go wrong.

Tips to adapt current pandemic policies

With the pandemic coming to an end, it’s become increasingly clear that existing pandemic-related policies need to change. At the same time, announcing change to stakeholders—whether it’s big or small—isn’t always easy. We’d like to share a few pieces of advice that can help your school community transition more smoothly into the district’s updated policies.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you adapt current pandemic policies:

  • Communicate the “why” to stakeholders: As mentioned earlier, the students’ best interests are your top priority. They should always be front of mind during the decision-making process. When you announce a policy change, make it very clear that you’re doing what’s best for the students. That way, stakeholders will know that your district is making changes with good intentions. One way or another, every stakeholder has a reason to support the students.
  • Back your decision with reputable sources: Stakeholders are more accepting of a policy change when there’s good research to back it up. Be transparent about the administrative team’s thought process. Provide links to studies, articles and other bodies of research that administrators used to make the decision. You can’t get everyone to be on your side, but at the very least, you can give stakeholders a good reason to feel confident in the new policies.
  • Cultivate stakeholder trust and support: Districts have an easier time getting stakeholders to accept policy changes when they lean on that pre-established foundation of trust and support. Stakeholder support is crucial, especially as your district navigates polarizing topics like a global pandemic. You need them to trust that your district is making the right decision. It’s also important to acknowledge that stakeholder trust and support isn’t something you seek only when you need it. Cultivating their trust and support has to be an ongoing effort.

Communication experts are here for you

Announcing a policy change isn’t something you have to do alone. School district communication experts are available to assist your administrative team with reassessing and revising current pandemic policies. They can also help you find the most effective way to communicate these policy changes to your stakeholders.

There are many benefits to having a communication expert by your side. They can help you identify the “why” behind your district’s policy changes, and they can create content that communicates the “why” in a way that garners stakeholder support. You’ll also learn how to build a comprehensive communications plan that ensures all the appropriate stakeholder groups stay informed about policy changes.

The Donovan Group can help with all of this and more. For almost 20 years, our firm has helped school districts communicate policy changes and build positive stakeholder relationships while doing it. We recognize that this post-pandemic era is a critical time for effective communication, and we want to do our part to ensure district administrators develop mutual trust and understanding with their stakeholders. We’re always here when you need us!

While the pandemic is over, it’ll weigh on stakeholders’ minds for quite some time. As you update pandemic policies, you have to consider how various groups will take the news. Don’t look to stakeholders to make the decision for you. Rather, make the decision based on what’s best for the students. As long as you communicate effectively, stakeholders will be more likely to accept new policies with grace and understanding.

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