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A Considered Response to Coronavirus

By Jeffrey Shields posted 02-04-2020 11:13 AM


CEO Notebook |

As recommendations quickly change, schools are seeking to mitigate risk while maintaining a steady course.

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

The past couple of weeks have offered no shortage of news specific to independent schools. The Supreme Court is considering religious school choice, the onset of Brexit will likely impact U.K. boarding schools, and the U.S. primary election season has begun, raising political tensions on some campuses. Novel coronavirus or nCoV, however, has risen to the top, with concerns not only for boarding schools and day schools with international travel or homestay students, but all schools and citizens.

Late last week, the World Health Organization declared nCoV a world health emergency. Not only has the U.S. Department of State advised U.S. travelers not to go to China for the time being, but the Trump administration has banned U.S. entry to foreigners traveling from China and placed quarantine restrictions on U.S. citizens returning home from China. NBOA has been tracking these developments on, which lists a number of useful resources from NAIS and other organizations to help schools understand the risk and how they should respond.

While no independent school has yet reported a case, the first case on a college campus came to light this past weekend, at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The individual returning from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, has been isolated, and risk to the community is low, according to authorities; business there is operating as usual. Colleges and universities are taking many precautions, including screening students, and the atmosphere is tense. K-12 schools too need to be prepared by staying abreast of developments, readying a crisis plan and communicating with stakeholders among other measures.

Regardless of the risk level to your school community, the news is likely the talk of students, parents, faculty and staff. In addition to risk management procedures, school leaders should be prepared to address increased incidents of Asian discrimination. Major media outlets have reported Asian Americans and people of Asian descent facing racist remarks on social media and in person. Field trips to Chinatown have been cancelled, for example, despite the disease being many thousands of miles away.

It is hard to know exactly how to respond, as schools want neither to overreact nor underreact.

I would therefore urge schools to prepare for the virus according to guidelines from health authorities and also the fallout of surrounding conversations. It is hard to know exactly how to respond, as schools want neither to overreact nor underreact. For school leaders who faced the H1N1 scare in 2009, these conversations may seem familiar, but it is unknown how nCoV will develop, and for newer leaders, it may feel like all new territory.

To this end, NBOA has worked with the Enrollment Management Association (EMA), the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) to convene a webinar, “Independent School Coronavirus Response,” this Thursday, at 3 p.m. ET (an hour before our regularly schedule webinar on UBIT). Industry experts will cover a range or related topics. Dr. Adrianna Bravo, medical director of Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, will share an overview of where we stand today and how best to prepare. Debra Wilson of SAIS will discuss legal and liability issues, and Myra McGovern of NAIS will discuss pastoral care, communications and bias prevention. Our associations will also share coronavirus resources relevant to independent schools following the program.

Learn more and register for this joint program. NBOA will also convene a special session on preparing for a public health emergency at the 2020 NBOA Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, and we will share more details as they become available. 

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, February 4, 2020. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

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