Create the essential COVID-19 response plans for your school

By March 5, 2020COVID General

Developing these 5 plans will help you to be better prepared for school emergencies, thinking through the contingencies while the stress levels are relatively low. The idea is not to make a perfect plan, but to create a foundation of preparation that give you the confidence and flexibility to adapt when the reality of an actual emergency require new ideas.

Communication Plan

The Communication Plan is essential to identify the ways that the various constituencies will communicate with one another during the emergency. The essential questions that the plan must answer are:

  • Where can families get the most current information about school closure, important messages, contact information, submitting questions or concerns, volunteer opportunities?
  • How does school administration send out emergency alerts or messages that cannot wait for a person to check out a web page?
  • How and when do faculty and staff check in with their administrative command?
  • How will direct communication with students be made?
  • How will hard documents and required signatures be transmitted?
  • What happens if one of the communication channels is disrupted?

Some Recommendations for the Communication Plan

  • Set up a COVID-19 page on the schools website. Let families and staff know early that this is where to go for the latest information about the school’s plan, actions, and response to the emergency. Updated contact information. Changes to enrollment deadlines, payment remittance instructions, and perhaps even a daily or regular blog from the head or principal. Let the community know how they are to inform you when a student or family member falls ill, or if the student is otherwise unable to participate the remote learning activities.
  • Learn how to update the outgoing message on the school’s primary telephone number. Allow messages to be left by callers in the general voice mail box, and assign two people to receive them each day.
  • Consider getting an electronic fax number and posting that on the school’s COVID-19 response page. This will be helpful when parents need to send authorizations, enrollment contracts, or medical documents securely.

Business Continuity Plan

The Business Continuity Plan defines how all of the essential activities that keep the school administratively functioning are handled in the event of an emergency.

  • How/when do employees check in? How are employees’ locations and availabilities tracked?
  • What happens when a faculty or staff member falls ill?
  • What happens if an employee needs emotional assistance?
  • How are these essential functions conducted when offsite:
    • Admissions
    • Enrollment
    • Banking
    • GL/AR/AP
    • Advancement
    • Payroll / Benefits
  • What on-campus technology resources are required, and how do you securely access them? What happens if they go offline?

Consider some of these actions to be included in the plan:

  • Bring laptop and charger home every night
  • Have a good printer/scanner, plenty of paper and spare toner
  • Secured stack of checks, and co-signature protocol, offsite
  • Complete list of key vendors, account numbers, contact numbers: power, Internet, mobile phone provider, rent, water, legal, accounting
  • Set up and test remote access to school systems through VPN while off campus
  • Test all business office functions while offsite
  • Test report and check printing
  • Sign up for eFax (temporary fax number that goes to an email)
  • Prepare for each critical role to be duplicated in the event of illness
  • Establish technical support protocols, and have a backup plan

Education Continuity Plan

The Education Continuity Plan define the goals and objectives of instruction when students are not able to be on campus, either groups of students at a time, or all students. See Knowing Technologies’ post on creating an educational continuity plan here.

The plan should describe the tools available to educators, any sources of training, and the process of getting support while using them.

Since different grade levels require different kinds of engagement when remote from their teachers, the education continuity plan might describe example activities. Creating experiences that are asynchronous are encouraged; they provide better opportunities for students that have had prolonged absences to catch up after  their own illness or household emergencies prevent immediate participation.

  • How do teachers take student attendance, and what attendance categories indicate that a student participated remotely?
  • What are minimum accreditation requirements for daily engagement, and how is it measured, when students are not able to be in a classroom?
  • What is the daily and weekly schedule in each division?
  • What synchronous and asynchronous interactions are recommended by the teacher each day?
  • How and when do instructional leaders sit-in on virtual instruction and provide feedback?
  • How and when do groups of educators get together virtually for peer support?
  • How do educators communicate with their students when some may not have access to email?
  • How do students access counseling and other support services?

Technology Plan

The Technology Plan defines the scope of technology services, and sets expectations for systems support, system uptime, and contingencies in the event of a system failure. The audience for the plan is generally the emergency management team, but parts of the plan can be published on the COVID-19 response web page.

Parents will want to know how they can get support if their student is unable to access the online learning systems, has logon or password problems, or has hardware problems preventing them from getting online.

Essential in the technology plan is identification of all of the critical business systems, the person responsible and contact number for each, and expectations of performance and availability while users are away from campus.

It is essential that on-campus systems are made available using only the most secure methods possible (e.g., VPN), and that the emergency doesn’t cause carelessness or greater risk to be taken.

Data backup and recovery processes may have to be altered, but it is essential that all systems have multiple, secured, copies of backups. It is during emergencies that small mistakes can turn into large problems if shortcuts are taken.

What actions will be taken if a system fails and it is required to be on campus to repair it? If there is a power outage, which systems or services restart automatically? What is the process that should be followed to restart them?

Consider setting up a separate, temporary telephone support number for families, and another for faculty and staff, and have it ring to multiple support resources. Something like Phone.com or RingCentral should be easy enough to set up for this purpose.

Here are some ideas for the emergency technical plan, many of which can be posted on the school’s COVID-19 web page

  • Technology requirements for the students’ homes
  • Support processes for faculty and staff to follow
  • Support processes for families to follow, including hours that support will be available
  • Expected support response times

Emergency Response Plan

The School’s Emergency Response Plan defines the emergency response team makeup, responsibilities and processes on behalf of the school community. It should specify roles, role redundancy, communication processes, information collection, and critical event triggers (when x happens, we implement into plan Y).

Thee plans can take many months to develop, and it is not realistic to expect an all-encompassing, tested plan ready to respond to the COVID-19 threat, but consider some of these points as places to start for now.

  • Who is the “incident commander”. Typically not the organization’s leader, as that person will have their hands full keeping the community functioning together to deliver instruction.
  • Who will participate on the team, and represent these important roles:
    • Administration
    • Finance
    • Legal
    • Communications
    • IT
    • Health and Counseling
    • School Division Heads
    • Human Resources
  • Who will monitor public health sites, other schools, and government sources, assimilate the information, and communicate effective summaries (and to whom?)? There should be two people doing this.
  • Sign up for county health and emergency alerts
  • What is the process to create and approve communication ? How frequently should families be communicated with?
  • What precautionary measures need to be implemented?
    • Campus visitors
    • Campus tours
    • Campus events
    • Changes to lunch / meals
    • Deliveries
  • What are immediate mitigation measures that need to be taken?
    • Changes to cleaning, training of cleaning staff
    • Changes to sick policies (“If you feel sick, stay home”)
    • Clarify technology and telephone reimbursement policies when faculty and staff are all working from home.
  • What supplies does the school need in the short term?
  • Are there school policies that need to be reconsidered. Obviously, on-campus attendance is one, sick-time limits may have to be relaxed or suspended during the crisis.
  • What triggers a school closure? Partial closure?
  • What triggers allow school to resume?
  • How does the school keep in touch with faculty and staff? Who keeps track of where everybody is and how they are doing?
  • What staff, students, and families are likely to need additional support? Spouses and children of emergency responders, those who recently lost a family member, etc.
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