It’s hard not to panic about the Coronavirus when it’s everywhere in the media and constantly on the news. As expected, parents of school-aged children are putting coronavirus prevention and preparation at the top of their concerns.
Schools are known as places where germs spread, so it’s especially important for school leaders to prepare and communicate their plan to ease parent’s concerns. But how are schools handling it? What should school leaders be communicating with parents? As coronavirus continues to spread in the US, here are some tips on how school leaders can proactively prepare and respond to the coronavirus:
Let parents know that you are aware and knowledgeable
Parents will have more trust and clarity when they know that the school is aware and knowledgeable about the coronavirus and how it is contracted. By sharing with them your emergency plans for infectious disease outbreaks to reduce the spread of disease, it will ease their minds and help decrease the likelihood of students or staff contracting the virus. The plan should touch on both preventative actions and reactive actions if a student or staff member contracts the virus. Here is a guide to helping create an emergency plan for infectious disease from the CDC website:
If you want to personally learn more about the coronavirus to build your own background, here is a great document to start with from the CDC. You can also send this out to parents as a helpful facts sheet: Coronavirus Facts Sheet
Inform parents and families about what they can discuss with their students at home
It’s important to help families know what they can talk to their child at home to reinforce healthy hygiene practices. Discussing things like staying home when sick, how to cover sneezes and coughs, when to wash hands, and avoiding touching dirty surfaces will help students stay healthy. Sharing external resources with parents can also help with at-home preparation for avoiding the coronavirus. The CDC also has some helpful resources to share with parents including:
You can also ask your school nurse to alleviate anxiety for families and send out a “Nurse’s Note” or some other form of parent communication with tips on staying healthy.
Reinforce and teach proper hygiene to students at school
Along with helping parents teach proper health practices, teachers and school staff can also remind and reinforce these practices. A few quick wins to work with students on at school to decrease the risk of coronavirus include:
- Handwashing: The most important way health officials say you can refrain from the coronavirus is to wash your hands frequently. The CDC says you need to wash “with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.” Easy ways to do this is to have teachers make an announcement before and during lunch to remind students to take a stop at the bathroom to wash their hands. Teachers could also have a hall pass with a reminder to students to wash their hands before returning to class.
- Touching eyes, nose, mouth: Remind students not to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth. That is an easy way to spread germs and contract a virus.
- Covering a cough or sneeze: Make sure there are tissues available in classrooms and remind students to cover their coughs and sneezes with tissues.
- Hand sanitizers: Remind students to use hand sanitizers often. Make sure the sanitizer in the classroom contains at least 60% alcohol to be effective.
Let parents and families know how you will communicate updates in the future
If there needs to be emergency communication, how will the school share that with parents? Make a plan for future communications and message that to parents. Will you send the communication via text messaging to the school community, posting on a website, sending an email, distributing a letter, etc? Sharing this will lessen parent’s anxiety of missing important information and may increase the number of parents you reach because they will update contact information proactively.
Monitor student and teacher absences
Taking note of student and teacher absences can help proactively catch any potential viruses from coming to the school. Analyze absenteeism patterns among students and staff while ensuring they stay home if they are not sufficiently healed will help keep the school community healthy. Creating procedures for students and staff who are sick to be sent home and separated as much as possible from the school community will help contain any potential spreading of viruses. Additionally, try to be flexible with missing work and sick days. During these times, schools can also halt perfect attendance incentives until the coronavirus is less of a health risk.
Perform routine school cleaning
Coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets. Ensuring the custodial staff wipes down bathrooms, light switches, desktops, door handles, and commonly touched surfaces around the school with alcohol-based cleaning materials will be very impactful. Schools can also provide disposable wipes to students so they can independently wipe down surfaces before and after use.
Confront Racism or Biases Proactively
News reports have shared examples of people – intentionally or unintentionally – leaning into racist or bias-driven actions. Coronavirus was first discovered in China and some people have mistakenly taken actions like not going to Chinese restaurants or using Coronavirus as a reason to avoid certain groups of people. This is not okay – and we need to especially make sure our schools are a safe place where every student feels welcome. Make sure all students, staff, and parents are aware that jokes, off-cuff remarks, and intentional discrimination of any group is unacceptable.
In any situation where a student or teacher gets teased about the coronavirus, it should be immediately addressed by the school administration.
In the event a student does get sick – whether it is Coronavirus or not – make sure they are treated with love and support from the community.
Keep Calm and Teach & Lead On
While we aren’t medical experts, we are educators and teaching experts. We cannot control everything, and luckily we don’t need to. As always, students will take queues from you. So keep calm, and teach and lead on.
Keeping students and staff safe is our number one job as school leaders. These tips will help keep your school healthy and coronavirus-free! If you have any questions about implementing these tips, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Other helpful resources about coronavirus: