Keeping communities informed about schools during COVID-19
Suggestions from SREB task force, communications experts

Blog post

How can states, districts and schools keep clear lines of communication open with their families and students as schools plan for reopening this fall?

“Communication is a critical aspect to getting our schools reopened,” said SREB President Stephen Pruitt, “for parents to feel comfortable with bringing their kids back to school.”

That message was the focus of a June 16 webinar for SREB K-12 Education Recovery Task Force members. Experts from Widmeyer Communications, a firm in Washington, D.C. with a history of work with education groups, offered guidance for state leaders and educators on the task force. The firm provided this service pro bono.

The best advice for state leaders and educators: Be clear, honest, and caring—and stay in touch even when you don’t have all the answers yet, the experts suggested.

A few additional tips from the experts’ presentation:

  1. Make communications a priority. When making decisions at the state or local level, have your communications advisors at the table. They can help you identify which audiences you want to reach, and the best ways to share information with them.
  2. Lead with empathy. Be informative but friendly. Everyone has been through a lot. Some families have lost loved ones, faced sickness, or struggle with food insecurity, job losses or loss of child care. Use care as you provide information on school openings and the new rules to follow.
  3. It’s OK to say, “We don’t know yet.” If you don’t know, say so. But if you can, say how you’re working on an issue and when you’ll know more.
  4. Repeat your key messages. People often miss an e-mail, text message or flyers. In a crisis, it’s good practice to repeat the most important information.
  5. Ask for help from voices in the community. Seek out teachers’ groups, clergy, businesses, media personalities or neighborhood leaders to help get the word out. Invite them to a virtual chat over coffee.
  6. Communication goes both ways. Let families and voice their concerns and share ideas. Parents and the community should be able to reach someone directly by phone or e-mail.

For more information on the reopening of schools, see the SREB K-12 Education Recovery Task Force playbook (a work in progress).