School and District Communications During COVID-19

  • Team Schusterman

April 17, 2020

As the COVID-19 outbreak began, we committed to working with our grantees in new and different ways to adjust to a fast-changing and unprecedented crisis. Over the past few weeks, we have focused on listening to better understand the challenges you are facing. And one thing we heard repeatedly was the need for communications support. 

We have heard stories of parents lining up at the bus stop on the first day of virtual learning because they hadn’t heard schools were closed—as schools work to navigate an extreme digital divide. We have heard communications directors who are jumping from fire to fire and looking for better systems and support to get back ahead of the curve. And we have heard from parents who are inundated with emails from teachers, principals, and the district and didn’t know how to sort through all the information and resources. 

It is clear our education system will only be as effective as the extent to which schools and districts can effectively reach, guide and support families. For low-income students with fewer resources to rely upon and more stressors to navigate, that is especially true. This crisis will only widen long-standing educational equity gaps unless schools successfully connect with low-income families as quickly and effectively as possible.

With this in mind, we reached out to communications firm Be Clear to create communications tools and resources to support the work of our grantees. Together, we commissioned a Change Research poll and a series of interviews with parents of school-age children to understand what information was reaching them, how and how well. 

The good news: despite the expected and anecdotal bumps in the road, families are generally satisfied with the communications they are receiving so far. That is a huge testament to the tireless work schools and educators are doing. But it is clear the ongoing challenges are formidable: Half of Americans know someone who doesn’t have access to the internet or a device. And parents remain understandably worried and stressed about the future.

Based on our survey, Be Clear created a suite of learnings, recommendations and templates that we are making available to everyone in school communications—not just our grantees—to download and use. 

Explore our COVID-19 response toolkit for school communicators, which includes:

  • The COVID-19 Communications Cheat Sheet
  • Our Research and Polling Overview
  • Recommendations for School Communications
  • A Key Messaging Template
  • A Communications Roles and Responsibilities Worksheet
  • A Communications Calendar Template

If you already have your own templates in place for some of these tools and they are working, that is great—keep going! If you don’t, or know others who need support on the communications front, we hope these guidelines and templates will help. 

Our Foundation remains committed to supporting equitable access to an excellent education––and that has never been more challenging nor as vital as it is today. We will continue to do everything we can to support our partners that are working on the frontlines to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and reach their students, families and communities. Thank you for all you do. 

Check out all of the tools and templates and get more COVID-19 resources here.