With the World Health Organization declaring the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, the United States and other nations are seeing public school districts and institutions of higher education closing or moving to online learning formats to combat the epidemic. Community initiatives supported by local government organizations such as town hall meetings, holiday gatherings, and sporting events are also being cancelled or postponed. Leaders in education and local government are working tirelessly to mitigate risk and alleviate fears, while continuing to provide opportunities and a continuity of services to students, parents, or citizens.
So, what are public sector leaders to do in this time of chaos and confusion? All normal responsibilities and duties do not come to a complete stop due to an outbreak. Leaders are still called to carry on with their day-to-day tasks while tackling responsibilities far beyond anything we may have encountered before in a chaotic time.
For public sector leaders, a cycle of knowledge, communication, and response will be vital as we swim through these uncharted waters.
It is imperative for board and council members, administrators, and other public sector leaders to look to officials for guidance on how to proceed with preventative measures, or how to handle a potential case of the virus in your community.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has provided guidance on measures that communities may take in being preventative and supportive should a student, parent, staff, or other community member test positive for the virus or come in contact with an individual who has tested positive.
Leaders must collaborate with organizations and agencies to have an emergency operations plan in place, stay informed regarding the developments of COVID-19 cases, support flexible sick leave policies for staff and students, and share the plans of prevention and response with staff, parents, students, and other community members.
The response that each district and community may take to the coronavirus will vary. This will depend on when or if they have seen an outbreak, available resources, and other factors that may not be discovered until a plan of response has already been enacted.
Public schools and local governments are taking extra preventative and response measures, many with guidance from health officials. The information reported from these organizations will be vital as leaders develop plans of response and action to the coronavirus for public schools and greater community.
What is vital is knowing that the response or actions of public sector leaders may change based on new information or communication with other institutions or within the community. You may discover that the communication plan that had been in place was insufficient, new information or a new plan of action needs to be shared, or new information regarding the coronavirus may disrupt a plan that has already been in place.
Under these circumstances, flexibility is key. The greatest mistake leaders can make during this time is to remain rigid with plans or procedures that are no longer effective or sufficient.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has released a recent report stating that schools have been closed in 13 countries to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has affected more than 290 million students worldwide.
Communication is vital to reducing risks and easing fears for parents, staff, students, and other community members.
What information might be shared by public sector leaders?
- Plans of preparation and prevention.
- Plans of response (from best to worst case scenarios).
- Resources for local community members and families. (This may include alternate opportunities for meals accessed by children within your district, should schools be closed.)
- Resources for staff members and students regarding alternate learning formats (online education, non-traditional instruction days, etc.).
Communicate to the public what your district or local government is doing in terms of preparation, should your schools or community initiatives and services need to close, be frozen, or postponed for an extended period of time. What resources or tools might community members need to prepare for this scenario?
What extra measures are schools and local governments taking in terms of disinfecting public spaces? Are there other ways your community is working to mitigate the risks of contracting and passing the virus?
Many public schools, colleges, and universities are turning to online education during the coronavirus epidemic. This not only provides some mitigation in terms of spreading the virus, but continues to provide students with educational opportunities. However, many instructors and students may need additional assistance in tackling this new modality. Leveraging the right technology, district leaders can share related information that supports students and staff in this new learning format. What alternative plans are being formulated to accommodate learning in situations that do not have adequate technology and tools?
Additionally, communicate with leaders from other districts and local governments. Find what has been working and what specific needs they are seeing arise from their response to the coronavirus in their district and community.
Leveraging technology, public sector leaders can develop and share new policies and procedures related to how public schools, local governments, staff, parents, students, and community members can respond to the coronavirus, as well as information related to mitigating risks and alleviating fears for these individuals.
Daily tasks and responsibilities may not be put off due to this unprecedented issue for many public sector professionals. It is vital to utilize online platforms that support district leaders in successfully carrying out these tasks through a secure cloud-based software, especially as many may find themselves and those around them reducing contact or practicing self-isolation.
As the coronavirus has officially been declared a global pandemic, public school districts and local governments are facing a myriad of issues that can seem difficult to tackle. Staying abreast of constantly changing information, establishing flexible plans of response, providing strong and stable examples of leadership, and providing a central resource point that serves as reliable and constant communication with staff, parents, students, and other community members will be imperative to the continued success of districts and communities as we face this unique and difficult situation.