The spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19 across the oceans and now into the continental U.S. has created an epidemic of reactions: mild concern, conspiracy speculation, panic, market corrections and perhaps even overreaction in some cases. But when it comes to your school district, being calm, organized and prepared in your risk communications will have positive effects on your school community relations.
Here at Hudsonville Public Schools, we sprung into action with our planning, involving top district leadership, and, working closely with our website provider, co-developed a Coronavirus Update Center to serve as a centralized hub of communication. It's been the cornerstone of our strategy, helping us be organized and professional in how we engage our school community around this important topic. It goes a long way too in helping us keep our entire district staff up to date.
Avoid ‘reacting’ and being caught off guard. Be proactive and, if you haven’t already, start preparing now and use this checklist of Coronavirus school communications tips to help get ready.
Follow this checklist to help formulate your plan, make for consistent and clear communications, serve as a great resource for staff, and present your school or district as professional, organized and prepared for this – and the next – crisis.
Coronavirus COVID-19 school communications checklist:
- Create a comprehensive communications plan. Coordinate your content with your state department of health. Make note of that person's contact info for time-sensitive response, and tell your superintendent you’re ready when the time comes to disseminate urgent news.
- Send email from superintendent to to parents, staff and entire school community. In times of crisis, leadership needs to be visible and accessible from the start.
- Refer to resources and updates from your local health and state departments of health. Most county’s boards of health have detailed risk communication procedures to share.
- Tap all the advisories from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Media and state health departments do; so should you.
- Set up a dedicated Urgent News Update Center on your website. Our provider, Campus Suite, has a module that slips right into the website. Here’s ours.
- Use your social media wisely. Your Facebook and Twitter accounts can help you quickly spread the word. Try not to use alarming language. Just point your audience to your website for details.
- Provide practical, general tips for good hygiene. Virus or no virus, focus on keeping students, staff and school visitors healthy clean.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning. Perfect time for a ‘deep clean’ across all campuses....And communicate your procedures to your school community.
- Review, update and implement emergency operations plans (EOPs). Some of these have been known to gather dust. Now’s a good time to refocus.
- Develop information-sharing systems with partners and stakeholders. Coordination is key. (PTOs, health departments, board of education, media, community groups, etc.)
- Monitor and plan for absenteeism. Even without school cancellation, many families will choose not to send their children to school.
- Reach out to local media. Tell them all you’re doing, get your superintendent or spokesperson out there.
- Seek professional crisis and risk communication help. There are many consultants experienced in working through all sorts of crises.
- Check with local and state School Public Relations Associations for support. You may not need to reinvent the entire wheel. Your school PR colleagues can help.
Not every school district communications department will necessarily follow to check all these boxes, but I hope you find this checklist helpful. We’re doing all we can at Hudsonville Public Schools here in Michigan, and I’m sure you’ll do what you can.
The key is to start planning now. Involve your district senior leadership. Use this checklist to put your plan together so your communications are clear to your staff, your parents, students and the entire school community. Don’t be caught off guard by this or the next potential crisis.
Rebecca Fabiano is a veteran communications specialist for Hudsonville Public Schools, a 7,000-student district in Michigan. She is always looking for new and effective ways to engage district families and community members. She loves to share school communication ideas.