This has to be a terrible time to be a school leader. They have been given limited resources, research, and support to bring students back in the midst of a global pandemic that has taken tens of thousands of American lives. While the hard part might be coming up with a plan to safely integrate and educate students, and safeguarding the health and safety of teachers, parents, as well as the community. Add to that a heated political argument over medical facts, prevention and a total vacuum of leadership on a national level — and the communication of what you will do, how, and why is nearly impossible. On one side, parents who are deeply concerned about the health and safety of their kids, family, and teachers, on the other side are parents who share the same concerns, but have no real alternatives. Add to that the governor vetoing of paid family leave, and now working families cannot afford to get sick. Then there are those who doubt the severity of the pandemic, and refuse to wear masks or socially distance. Plus, there are all the political voices, the confusion and contradictions in Washington, and no real guidance or funds.
The confusion and uncertainty have cast a shadow that runs from public school, each district being cored to come up with its own rules and universities, like UNH, that have struggled publicly.
As a parent, these are the hardest of times. Schools and universities around NH and the nation are struggling with limited and contradictory national and local guidelines as they attempt to make sense of how to send kids back to school in a few weeks. So many parents need their kids to go back to school, as they have to work to make a living, and every parent is concerned for the health and safety of their kids as well as the teachers. Let’s call it what it is — a total mess.
The communications way forward is far from simple, as time is ebbing away. You have to plan for the worst, and hope for the best. Public meetings, consulting with national and local experts, clear consistent framing, and the ability to engage and respond. Let’s be honest, there is no way to find consensus on this crisis, or to get everyone to agree. But an eye to safety, a clear plan, and a plan B and C are must haves.
The worst thing any school can do is not to put kids and teachers first. Any signs otherwise will erode public trust. The key has to be to maintain as much of the confidence and trust of the majority of people. And to that end, constant and consistent communication is vital too. This is one of those times that over communication is a good idea.