How K-12 leaders can respond to internal pressure for more freedom

Superintendents should always deny requests that could risk the safety of staff, faculty, students and the public
By: | June 8, 2020
District leaders are facing internal pressure to grant employees more freedoms that could conflict with school safety policies, such as social distancing.Credit: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

District leaders are facing internal pressure to grant employees more freedoms that could conflict with school safety policies, such as social distancing, as states continue to roll back restrictions. Responses from superintendents can vary, but only if the implementation of these approved requests would not put staff, faculty, students and the public at risk.

“We can’t grant freedoms too quickly based on internal pressure because it could lead to people dying. It’s as simple as that,” says Deputy Superintendent Jonathan Prince of St. Lucie Public Schools in Florida. “If our employees are not following our policies, then we will discipline those employees just as we would for any violation of policy.”

Superintendents can be lenient if an approved request wouldn’t harm anyone when enacted. “We are finding more about this virus every day, so if employees are pushing boundaries in a way that will not risk the public, then we can look into what they are asking and decide if we can grant these additional freedoms,” says Prince. “ We are going to have to evolve and adjust on the fly as we continue to learn more about the virus.”

What to do when changing school safety policies

Whenever adjustments are made, leadership needs to keep parents and employees informed, especially board members since they are usually the main line of communication for parents and the public. “You do not want your board to be blindsided. You want them to be able to provide the correct answers to any and all questions,” says Prince. “Always explain why you are doing what you are doing, how the policy has been vetted and what the plan is moving forward.”

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Leadership also needs to provide training to employees when applicable and continuously check in to ensure staff and students are following these protocols.

At St. Lucie, leaders recently approved school marching bands and Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps members to participate in summer activities on their campuses. Staff will be trained in June, and Prince, the district superintendent and school executive directors will supervise the events on the first day to make sure policies are being followed.

“We are going to see if we can do this successfully without people catching COVID-19 during the summer before we return in the fall when the conditions are expected to be more perilous,” says Prince. “We have to accept that there is no way to avoid every risk, but we can minimize these risks by ensuring everyone is following the recommendations provided by the CDC and health departments.”

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