Faced with the daunting task of reopening schools, many states and local districts have assembled task forces to assist with developing plans to support the unique needs of schools responding to COVID-19.
SREB offers the following five potential actions for enhancing or establishing a local task force.
1. Define the problem the task force will address and establish a clear scope and purpose to guide the group’s work.
Task forces can be created to address varied needs. It is essential that leaders clearly define the problem(s) the task force will be asked to address. In many cases, task forces that convened early in the COVID-19 pandemic have now shifted their work to address procedures for closing out the school year and planning for virtual events like graduations. Consider using a calendar of deliverables to support the task force, such as this example:
Solidify end-of-year procedures that comply with social distancing guidelines and local restrictions for facility usage
Identify tools to support communication with all shareholders
Prepare physical plants for the new school year
Uniform cleaning practices for buildings
Procedures for students and staff to enter buildings
Communicate social distancing and health practices to students, parents and staff
Expectations for classrooms
Expectations for common areas
Expectations for additional school-based events (including limitations)
Create communication and outreach strategies for students, parents and the community
Address changes in procedures and expectations for school campuses, classrooms and access to support systems
Establish sanitation practices and expectations
Promote the importance of learning
Determine strategies to support student learning while in classrooms
Identify tools and resources for using technology
2. Define the timeline to support the work that is communicated to task force members and other shareholders.
Are current task forces or committees meeting weekly? Is that time commitment limiting participation? Is the existing meeting schedule yielding the desired results?
Is the group large enough to split into subcommittees or smaller teams on specific priorities?
Can you adopt a schedule that allows subcommittees to meet every other week and share results with the full task force on alternating weeks?
How will members attend meetings? Will members be expected to participate in face-to-face sessions or can video conferencing be used?
Who will be responsible for overseeing and carrying out the different elements of recovery and reopening plans created by the task force?
Members of SREB’s K-12 Recovery Task Force report that task forces in their states started to address remote learning needs in the spring and have evolved to cover solutions for end-of-year events such as graduation ceremonies, summer school and reopening in the fall. They plan to convene at least through June and begin implementing their plans in July.
Some task forces are evolving from planning and guidance to mandating compliance and approving local plans. Many recognize they may need to continue meeting, problem-solving and adapting plans well into the late fall or winter.
Delaware’s task force makes recommendations through the education agency that are then presented to the governor.
The Maryland State Department of Education released its long-term education recovery plan in early May. It aligns with the governor’s state recovery plan and includes options for school systems to consider.
3. Identify and secure task force members, ensuring that membership is balanced and aligns with the group’s communicated purpose.
SREB compiled the following lists of potential task force members. Use it to brainstorm additional members to invite to your task force or to an existing committee or group.
State or District
Board of education members
Chief academic officer
Curriculum and instruction director
Exceptional student services director
Federal grants coordinator
Food and nutrition director
Human resources director
School safety director
Support services director
Teachers who support Second Language Learners
Teachers who support Exceptional Needs Students
School nurses or other on-site health providers
Associations for teachers, school boards, superintendents and principals
Elected local officials
The state community and technical college system and higher education agency
Childcare agencies or providers
Community support agencies
Public radio and television stations State or local public health departments
Hospitals or health care providers
Mental health officials or clinicians
Public safety agencies
County emergency management
Workforce development agencies
As you consider expanding an existing group or committee or building a new task force, review the list below to safeguard the balance of your team.
Dos and Don’ts of Securing Task Force Members
Take a strategic approach to building or revising your task force’s membership.
Ask for volunteers.
Ensure membership is diverse and balanced.
Limit the team to those who traditionally participate — “the usual suspects.”
Ensure invited members represent the overall demographics of your school and/or district.
Communicate that meetings are optional. This will limit participation and the overall success of your team.
Prioritize regional or local experts who understand and can provide guidance on health and safety measures (e.g., health officials, public safety officials).
Alabama has a separate group tasked with looking at long-term concerns and aligning financial allocations with those concerns.
Virginia has an additional K-12 and higher education task force.
4. Secure background information and available resources.
Gather background information and resources task force members can use to (a) gain an overview of the problem they are trying to address and (b) communicate potential solutions and best practices that already exist. These materials will set the stage for the success of your task force and jump start their work.
Provide opportunities for local experts to share strategies and lessons learned. Invited guests should align with the overall purpose of the task force as well as its calendar of deliverables. Share varied resources from other districts and schools to spark planning. Be careful to share resources that showcase a variety of solutions so the team can brainstorm the ideas that work best for your school or district.
Post the calendar of task force meetings and resources on school or district websites.
Use the task force to identify successful communication tools within your community.
Deploy a communication strategy that provides no-tech, low-tech and high-tech options.
Keep information flowing up and down the chain of communication between schools and communities and district or state offices. For example, a school seeking a waiver consideration needs to communicate with the district’s central office and the state department of education, then update students, parents and the community.
Evaluate the communication plan monthly to determine which tools are working and which need to be revisited.
Provide ongoing updates in alternate formats and multiple languages.
Flyers and “how to” guides that are sent home (in multiple languages)
School-based auto-calls to families
District or school websites
Local newspaper promotional segments
Radio broadcast announcements
Related social media resources, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram
Television broadcast announcements
Recorded or live-streamed task force meetings
Mississippi releases daily updates that include guidance and resources for schools and districts.
Alabama is creating a technical manual with sections aligned with the plan for reopening and finishing the school year.
Louisiana has livestreamed Resilient Louisiana Commission meetings and taken questions from the public through email and other means.