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Communicating to Families About Coronavirus - The Information that Families Want to Know from School Districts

What School Districts Should Communicate to Families About Coronavirus

Just last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread a global pandemic. What we know for sure is that this virus is at the top of everyone’s mind, especially the minds of family members with children in school. This pandemic is something the world has never dealt with before, and these are uncharted waters for all leaders, who are making significant decisions to protect the health and safety of their communities with no playbook to go off of. And unfortunately, there is no predictability in any of this, and things may develop within 2 hours, 2 days, or 2 minutes.

Families are worried, concerned, and have dozens of questions regarding what’s happening. Ultimately, families want to know that their child is in safe hands, they want to feel that they have the latest information and are being kept well informed, and they want to know the district is on top of all matters with their child’s best interest at heart.

To help ease the concerns of the families in your community, it’s best to understand exactly what information families want to know. We went out and analyzed some of the many concerns that families had and compiled them here. As you plan to communicate with families regarding the Coronavirus, we recommend you consider addressing the following:

1. Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases or suspected cases within the district or community

Families want to be well informed of any cases or potential cases of the virus within the district or the community. They want to know that the district knows about them, and is openly transparent about what the infection. This may require your district to work diligently with local officials, and to quickly/openly share this information. If this is indeed your district’s plan, continuously providing this information for families can be reassuring.

2. Your district has a plan

Many families just want to be assured that your school district has a plan. It sounds so simple, but in fact many families worry that you aren’t prepared. Those families just need reassurance that you have a plan, or even that you plan on sharing additional information soon. Now, the number of “what if” scenarios makes this tricky, because as of right now, nobody has a clear path forward. Many decisions will have to be “game time” decisions, but reassuring families that you have plans to enact for different scenarios can help.

3. Your district is taking proactive steps

Remember how we said families want to know that their child is in good hands, and that you have their best interest at heart? Here is where you let them know. Make sure you communicate the proactive steps your district is taking to keep everyone healthy and safe. Whether that be extra cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing, or that you are working with officials to stay up to date, families want to know what you are doing to keep their child safe.

4. The effects on Spring break, testing, curriculum, and upcoming events (school dances, graduation, spring sports, etc.)

For some families, their child may be missing tests and curriculum. For others, they may have high school seniors who are looking forward to their final year in sports, Senior Proms, as well as their big graduation. Again, families only want the best for their children. These are not easy questions to answer, especially since the future is uncertain for so many schools. However, as these events draw nearer, families will want to know your intentions for them.

5. Updates to policies

Families will want to know whether or not you are making any exceptions or updates to certain policies. For example, have you allowed any flexibility in your attendance and/or sick leave policies? What about the perfect attendance award/incentive program? Even if you haven’t made any updates to these policies, families will want to know exactly that, so make sure to include that information in your communications.

6. If schools are closed, will meals still be provided?

Some families rely on school lunches, may not have access to what they need at grocery stores, or may not be prepared to have their child at home full-time. While schools are closed, many districts are still providing students access to lunch at their schools or specific pick-up locations. Your families will want to know if you are providing this option as well.

7. If schools close, what can families do who have limited access to internet?

With public locations such as coffee shops and libraries closing, and some families having limited-to-no access to high-speed internet, this is a legitimate question for them. Consider providing a list of resources to those families, and potentially even reaching out to local providers to see what they can do. Many internet providers are creating better access to the internet for K-12 students during this time. Check out some of the resources we found below:

Cox: Through their low-income Connect2Compete program, Cox is providing new customers their first month of internet for free, as well as increased speeds for current customers. They are also providing resources for discounted, refurbished equipment through their association with PCs for People, and a Learn from Home toolkit for schools that includes instructions on how to fast-track eligible students without internet access.

Charter/Spectrum: their companies are providing free internet for K-12 students for 60 days.

Comcast: Their company is providing two months of free internet for new customers, increased speeds for existing customers, and free internet hotspots.

Sharing with Families:

When it comes to sharing information with families, the goal is to reach every family, wherever they are, with clear and concise information. For schools and districts using Livingtree Engage for school communication, sharing with families there is the most effective place to start since your post will be delivered on the platform, and notifications will be sent via email and mobile push alert. Plus, your post will be delivered in the preferred language of every family member, ensuring everyone can receive and understand key communications.

Resources for Schools & Districts:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently has regularly updated resources available to school and district communities, including how your district should plan, prepare and respond, preparation checklists, and FAQs. Those resources are listed below:

Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Childcare Programs

Checklists for Schools and Childcare Programs

FAQs for Administrators

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