By Mary Kate McGrath - September 17, 2020
In August, the CDC issued enhanced guidelines for K-12 schools, encouraging administrators to bolster communications amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance was issued in response to school reopening plans across the United States, and while each community will make an individual decision on whether to pursue in-person, remote, or hybrid learning, a communication strategy is essential.
The CDC defines a K-12 administrator as any individual who oversees school operations, including school district superintendents, school principals, and assistant principals. The guidance aims to help K-12 administrators protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of community members, including students, teachers, staff, and their families.
While the CDC acknowledged that K-12 reopenings are not without risks and districts will face numerous obstacles, schools are critical infrastructure, providing safe and supportive environments for students, including access to food or mental healthcare.
Additionally, getting students back to school allows many parents, guardians, or caregivers the opportunity to get back to work. Disruption of these services adds economic and psychological stress for families, which also correlates to instances of domestic violence.
Many schools also have additional concerns that keeping students out of classrooms will result in severe learning loss and potentially disrupt students' academic trajectory, especially for those who are most vulnerable.
There are many steps school districts can take to implement mitigation measures, from increased cleaning or sanitation, an audit of ventilation systems, evaluating outdoor spaces for classroom use, and requiring the use of masks at all times. All administrators should also examine key takeaways from the new CDC guidance, published on August 26 2020, which issued best practices for communication strategies as the pandemic continues to affect school protocol.
The CDC guidelines are made with the best public health evidence at the forefront of recommendations, and administrators, in collaboration with state public health officials and local leaders, should ensure all policies or protocols are in line with state regulations.
CDC documents outlined key considerations for ongoing communications as the pandemic continues to evolve, starting with communicating, educating, and reinforcing appropriate hygiene and social distancing practices for teachers, students, and staff. Every community member should be encouraged to practice good hand hygiene, but also be required to wear a mask while on school grounds. It’s critical for these plans to be clear and developmentally appropriate - for example, younger elementary school students need visual representations or signage on how to put a mask on or more frequent reminders.
Administrators are also encouraged to continue to “engage and encourage everyone in the school to practice preventative measures.” These communications will be the most important to support a school’s reopening and can include ongoing COVID-19 risks, best hygiene or PPE practices, and any updated information regarding restrictions or reported exposures within the community.
A mass notification system can be useful for COVID-19 updates as school leaders can proactively reach out to students, parents, teachers, and staff before they come to campus. The tool allows for consistent updates on school schedules or closures, travel bans or cautions, and any import documents, such as healthcare resources, food distribution centers, free or reduced lunch forms, or report cards.
There are several other key guidances and communication recommendations within the new CDC guidance, including:
CDC recommendations offered some key considerations, which all school leaders and local agencies should consider before reopening, several of which go beyond compulsory communications. These must-consider recommendations include:
A coronavirus response solution can support external communications, but can also be a valuable tool for supporting internal communications. The system allows them to customize or share content about the latest developments of the pandemic internally via email, voice calls, social media, or SMS text. It can also facilitate conferencing, connecting teachers with school leaders or public health departments across administrative levels. As schools continue to pursue reopening, this allows a quick and effective manner to bring administrators together to talk next steps or finalize plans.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
In August, millions of students across the United States returned to college or university campuses amid the...