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The Role of the School Board in Responding to the Coronavirus

With the uncertainty surrounding the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the public is looking to their school district leadership teams to provide a unified message to employees, parents, and the general public.

Meetings, events, and normal routines are being interrupted all over the world. They will likely change in your district as well. Providing education and delivering services may look different than you have seen before. Your district may even need to provide services that support the work of emergency management in your area.

There is deep concern about reaching non-English speaking populations with appropriately translated messaging and maintaining individualized instruction for students with disabilities, and providing related medical services for our most vulnerable students. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for districts across the state.

Your board and superintendent have vital and unique roles to play as this unprecedented event unfolds. With the situation changing daily, best practices are as important as ever.

Here’s what school board members can do to best serve their district.

The school board and superintendent should stay connected

Social distancing is the watch word, but boards need to stay together, even if at a distance. Though in-person meetings are discouraged, stay in touch with your governance team members. Stay connected with your community. They are looking for your district’s calm and capable leadership.

The governor’s office has approved a request by the Office of the Attorney General to temporarily suspend some open meeting laws in response to the COVID-19 disaster. This clears the way for governmental bodies like school boards to meet by telephone or video conference in order to comply with social distancing recommendations and any restrictions on gatherings.

As your board navigates important decisions while complying with the Open Meetings Act and protecting public safety, remember that not all open meetings laws are waived. Please consult local counsel, contact the Office of the Attorney General, or call TASB Legal Services at 800.580.5345.

The leadership team should be thinking about how remote meetings will work when trying to involve the wider community in these times, too. Proactively seeking community partnerships (private and public) to extend web access into the community is one option to explore.

As your team discovers what works best for remote meetings and distance learning, share those best practices and resources (digital or analog) with neighboring districts.

Let your superintendent lead

This is the time for your superintendent to manage the district. They need to make most decisions that are being made at this time.

Allow your superintendent or other designated spokesperson to continue to be the voice and face of your district. Relying on the chain of command as a best practice is as important as ever.

There’s no need to publicly challenge your superintendent’s decisions right now. It only leads to more confusion in the community. Stay in regular contact with your superintendent, and call emergency board meetings only when the meeting is necessary for the good and welfare of your district.

The leadership team should know the message

Make sure your district maintains a unified public message, and remember to let your superintendent or other designated person to be the official voice of your district.

Promote messages that are:

  • Supported by your full leadership team
  • Clear, calm, and reassuring
  • Factual (Here’s what we know, here’s what we are doing, here are organizations we are working with.)
  • Showing leadership in communicating about health practices (not just school stuff). Schools are often the primary source of information about health and nutrition

Take time to connect with your community, too. Share positive messages through video on social media. Share hope, gratitude, and compassion in a world facing panic and a pandemic.

Online learning opportunities for school boards

TASB is focused on everyone’s health and safety as we continue to monitor the implications of COVID-19. Some of our events are being canceled or postponed. We've created a page of TASB Events and Training Updates to keep track of these changes. There are still numerous continuing education opportunities available.

  • The Online Learning Center (OLC) includes content on Student Voice, and a new course on the Open Meetings Act will be available in early April.
  • TASB Board Consultants are available to answer questions by phone or provide training with individual trustees virtually. Just email board.dev@tasb.org or call 512.467.0222.

Other COVID-19 resources for school district leadership

Get information on how school districts can prepare for and respond to the coronavirus on our COVID-19 Resources page.

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