5 actions boarding school leaders should consider when navigating COVID-19

Expert Insight

5 actions boarding school leaders should consider when navigating COVID-19

With rapidly evolving recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19, heads of boarding schools are quickly making decisions going beyond those of the traditional K-12 institution. Safety measures recommended by the CDC directly impact residence life, classroom teaching, and student travel.

At the same time, school leaders are considering future effects on admissions and enrollment functions. As boarding schools across the globe modify infrastructure and policies to help reduce the risk of infection, school leaders should keep the following action steps in mind.  

57%

of boarding schools report that dorms would remain open for some or all students and staff during spring break
of boarding schools report that dorms would remain open for some or all students and staff during spring break

1. Ensure safe housing for students

According to a survey conducted by TABS in early March, 57% of boarding schools report that dorms would remain open for some or all students and staff during spring break. International students who could not safely travel home are either offered housing on campus or homestays with local faculty. While some schools report offering free housing to international families and those unable to return home, others charge a fee to students and compensate faculty for remaining on campus for supervision.

As campuses consider moving to remote instruction either before or following a mid-term break, school leaders are shifting more than just academic policies. Strengthening remote student support services ensures continued access to advising and other wellness resources.

2. Modify food service

22%

of schools report maintaining a 2-week food supply necessary to operate the school in the case of an emergency
of schools report maintaining a 2-week food supply necessary to operate the school in the case of an emergency

With the possibility of students remaining on campus during a quarantine, heads of school should investigate whether campus dining services are equipped to properly stock, handle, and safely distribute food. In the case that cafeterias are unable to continue buffet-style meals, Cranbrook schools have worked with their food services vendor to prepare for take-away lunches and alternative serving methods.

While 59% of schools surveyed by TABS report not stockpiling food and supplies in preparation for a campus closure, 22% report maintaining a 2-week supply necessary to operate the school in the case of an emergency.

3. Adopt virtual enrollment functions

Regardless of campus closure, engaging with admitted students continues to be a priority. While many boarding schools already offer options for online interviews, more heads of school are now creating the opportunity for virtual revisit days. For example, St. Mark’s School has admitted students complete a Virtual Revisit RSVP to ensure they can accommodate all those who are interested.

With reductions in travel for admissions and advancement, it’s important to plan for the effects of reduced enrollment or fundraising goals. Review the enterprise risk management guides for K-12 leaders to ensure your institution is positioned to effectively mitigate risks amplified by the outbreak.

4. Monitor student and faculty travel

With the recent tightening of travel recommendations by the State Department, school leaders are requesting to be kept up-to-date on student and faculty travel plans during spring break. In the event that travel recommendations change unexpectedly while families are away, The Lawrenceville School uses a travel questionnaire to be completed prior to departure from campus. Registering travel details with the school not only ensures smooth communication in the case of an emergency, but also allows the school to monitor any need for further travel advising.

5. Prepare an on-campus quarantine plan

While the broader K-12 population can ensure that day students are sent home in the case of mandated quarantine, not all boarders can easily leave campus on short notice. According to the TABS COVID-19 survey results, heads of boarding schools are considering several different options for quarantine, ranging from isolating designated campus properties to partnering with local hospitals or hotels. One boarding school is engaging families in a contingency plan to remove their children from campus within 12 hours of notice, if necessary.

Responding to COVID-19 rapidly develops school goals for both the short and long-term. As school leaders make decisions impacting academics, residence life, and enrollment, stay up-to-date through EAB’s coronavirus response resource center.

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