With the World Health Organization declaring the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, public school districts are closing or moving to online learning formats to combat the epidemic. Leaders in education are working tirelessly to mitigate risk and alleviate fears, while continuing to provide opportunities and a continuity of services to students and parents.

So, what are public school leaders to do in this time of chaos and confusion? All normal responsibilities and duties do not come to a complete stop due to an outbreak. Leaders are still called to carry on with their day-to-day tasks while tackling responsibilities far beyond anything we may have encountered before in a chaotic time.

For public school leaders, a cycle of knowledge, communication, and response will be vital as we swim through these uncharted waters.

Knowledge It is imperative for board members, administrators, and other public school leaders to look to officials for guidance on how to proceed with preventative measures, or how to handle a potential case of the virus in your community.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has provided guidance on measures that communities may take in being preventative and supportive should a student, parent, staff, or other community member test positive for the virus or come in contact with an individual who has tested positive.

Leaders must collaborate with organizations and agencies to have an emergency operations plan in place, stay informed regarding the developments of COVID-19 cases, support flexible sick leave policies for staff and students, and share the plans of prevention and response with staff, parents, students, and other community members.

Response The response that each district and community may take to the coronavirus will vary. This will depend on when or if they have seen an outbreak, available resources, and other factors that may not be discovered until a plan of response has already been enacted.

Public schools and local governments are taking extra preventative and response measures, many with guidance from health officials. The information reported from these organizations will be vital as leaders develop plans of response and action to the coronavirus for public schools and greater community.

What is vital is knowing that the response or actions of public school leaders may change based on new information or communication with other institutions or within the community. You may discover that the communication plan that had been in place was insufficient, new information or a new plan of action needs to be shared, or new information regarding the coronavirus may disrupt a plan that has already been in place.

Under these circumstances, flexibility is key. The greatest mistake leaders can make during this time is to remain rigid with plans or procedures that are no longer effective or sufficient.

Communication Communication is vital to reducing risks and easing fears for parents, staff, students, and other community members.

What information might be shared by public school leaders?

  • Plans of preparation and prevention.
  • Plans of response (from best to worst case scenarios).
  • Resources for local community members and families. (This may include alternate opportunities for meals accessed by children within your district, should schools be closed.)
  • Resources for staff members and students regarding alternate learning formats (online education, non-traditional instruction days, etc.).

Many public schools are turning to online education during the coronavirus epidemic. This not only provides some mitigation in terms of spreading the virus, but continues to provide students with educational opportunities. However, many instructors and students may need additional assistance in tackling this new modality. Leveraging the right technology, district leaders can share related information that supports students and staff in this new learning format. What alternative plans are being formulated to accommodate learning in situations that do not have adequate technology and tools?

Additionally, communicate with leaders from other districts and local governments. Find what has been working and what specific needs they are seeing arise from their response to the coronavirus in their district and community.

Stable LeadershipLeveraging technology, public school leaders can develop and share new policies and procedures related to how public schools, local governments, staff, parents, students, and community members can respond to the coronavirus, as well as information related to mitigating risks and alleviating fears for these individuals.

Daily tasks and responsibilities may not be put off due to this unprecedented issue for many public school professionals. It is vital to utilize online platforms that support district leaders in successfully carrying out these tasks through a secure cloud-based software, especially as many may find themselves and those around them reducing contact or practicing self-isolation.

Staying abreast of constantly changing information, establishing flexible plans of response, providing strong and stable examples of leadership, and providing a central resource point that serves as reliable and constant communication with staff, parents, students, and other community members will be imperative to the continued success of districts and communities as we face this unique and difficult situation.

For a longer version of this article, visit the Resource Hub on the Diligent website.

Diana Baker Freeman is an implementation specialist with Diligent, a partner of the New Jersey School Boards Association which offers BoardDocs services to school districts. She is a governance specialist, holds a master’s degree in Education Leadership and has taught in public schools and at the university level. As a school board member, she earned the designation of Master Trustee from the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), became a board development consultant for the TASB, and later, an independent consultant.