Risk Management |
By Amber Stockham
Most schools have already established policies that ask students, families and faculty to voluntarily disclose when they have traveled internationally. With the spread of COVID-19 domestically, new domestic outbreaks are occurring daily, and tracking the potential impact to your school is becoming more difficult.
To mitigate the school’s risk, administrators can ask all community members — not just faculty or international students — to disclose domestic and international travel plans. You may also ask all community members who travel on mass transportation, such as planes and long-distance trains and buses, to disclose their travel dates, means of travel, and destination, according to Schwartz Hannum PC. If a community member becomes infected, this information will help you identify possible sources and isolate the risk.
If a community member’s travel leads you to request they self-quarantine upon return, use consistent, objective criteria as the basis for the decision. Local health officials can help schools establish these criteria based upon current risk levels. Consult regularly with your local or state health department to ensure you have the most current information available.
Many schools have begun restricting visitors to campus, whether those visitors are family members, delivery personnel or accepted students. Assess the risk visitors may pose and implement consistent protocols for who will be allowed on campus and under what circumstances.
If possible, perform visits, tours and interviews for potential students, faculty and staff virtually. Schools should also reconsider plans to bring visiting faculty to campus at this time. If your school opts to allow only local travelers on campus, consider how the decision will be received within the community; international students or domestic boarders may feel sensitive at this time.
Regarding delivery personnel, schools will differ in their approach, but options include:
Planning and invitations for prom and graduation are occurring right now, with many schools signing contracts for venues and vendors. At this time, the CDC is recommending limiting large gatherings if possible. There is no “right” answer because we cannot know what the spread of COVID-19 will look like in two months. Each school will need to assess the risk given their unique circumstances and decide if they will allow any gatherings and, if so, how large and for what reasons. Some points to consider:
Having families sign limited waivers of liability for students on a school-sponsored trip is always recommended. In light of current concerns, schools should update these waivers to specifically include the potential risk of infection from COVID-19.
As for chaperones, an agreement that specifies that chaperones are voluntarily going on the trip and that calls out behavioral expectations is recommended. Signing a waiver, however, is not. Should a chaperone become ill or injured on a trip, waivers can interfere with the school’s protections under workers compensation laws.
More students of Asian descent are being bullied in U.S. schools, both public and private, likely due to the current COVID-19 outbreak. This bullying is based on misinformation and fear, and the best way to address it is to reduce both. Communications from the school should seek to educate the audience as to the facts regarding the virus and provide a calm alternative to often panicked media stories.
Fore more on how schools can address and prevent cyberbullying, see "The Overly Social Network" (Jan/Feb 2015).
School administrators can also seek to foster community dialogue around the feelings of students or faculty who may be feeling vulnerable or isolated due to their nationality or country of origin. Many of our community members are in pain, and engendering empathy rather than fear is the best way to serve both them and those whom they have come to call friends.
If you encounter bullying by adults or students on your campus, it likely violates your code of conduct policies, and consequences for violations should be consistently enforced. Bullying may also violate the law in your state or locality. Schools should consult their school counsel as these situations arise to ensure they are being addressed in a consistent and legal manner.
Reports from China and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicate that approximately 20% of people who become ill with the virus will experience serious symptoms. The risk of mortality – previously estimated at 3.4% – may be closer to 2%. No one can predict what infection rates will be in coming months, but health officials can provide some educated guesses about the cycle of the outbreak.
COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are anticipated to peak in mid- to late-April with an anticipated lull over the summer and a return in the fall. Schools should anticipate that infections will increase prior to year end and plan accordingly. Clearly communicate the school’s intentions related to impacted students and faculty. These communications may include:
Schools should not become lax if they see a reduction in infections. All schools should be reviewing their agreements, handbooks and releases in anticipation of similar concerns in the fall when students return to campus.
COVID-19: Independent School Business Operations Considerations (NBOA)
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Schools (NAIS)
Academic Continuity During COVID-19 Closures: A Case Study (NBOA, with additional resources on online learning)
Model Infectious Disease Preparation Checklist (Association of China and Mongolia International Schools)
Coronavirus Resources for Technology Leaders (ATLIS)
Recent Net Assets news itemsCOVID-19 Updates: Calm in Crisis, Admissions Impacts, Event CancellationsCOVID-19 Forces Classrooms Into the Cloud
NBOA Connect discussions (for members only) Faculty/staff travel survey re: coronavirusQuarantined employees (in the Dedicated HR forum, requires community permissions)
Nowhere to Hide: Best Practices in Crisis Management (July/August 2016)
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