How Private Schools Should Respond to the Coronavirus

How Private Schools Should Respond to the Coronavirus
How Private Schools Should Respond to the Coronavirus

Private School News

The coronavirus, a quick-spreading respiratory illness, has reached the United States. Many schools wonder how to react now that additional cases have been confirmed in the U.S., including cases on college campuses. Schools with vibrant international student programs are looking for guidance.

It can be extremely difficult to remain calm amid a rapidly changing situation, especially if parents are asking for a school’s position. The propensity for panic can vary from institution to institution, so preparing and addressing your school community can go a long way to dispel many unnecessary, but very real, fears. It is critical not to overreact or underreact but to prepare our school communities.

How Should Schools React to a Potential Outbreak?

Some schools have raised concerns on whether plans for celebrating the Lunar New Year should continue. Given that many schools are in the throes of a busy recruiting and admission season, some leaders are also reconsidering their own travel abroad, as well as the prospect of inviting international families to their campuses.

Schools looking for direction on whether to hold scheduled events as planned should continue to stay informed and be prepared to respond humanely.

Panicking doesn’t do anyone any good in this situation. School leaders know their communities well. Continue to track the latest updates and make informed decisions that serve your community.

Precautions to Take

The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized this outbreak as a global health emergency. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is closely monitoring the situation.

The CDC reports that all the confirmed cases had recently traveled to Wuhan, China, the source of the outbreak. These health organizations and federal and state health departments, are promoting cautionary practices. Consider the following.

Communicate and Stay Informed

It is prudent to follow the advice of agency experts. School officials should educate and communicate with their school health professionals; including school nurses, clinic personnel, nutritionists, and athletic trainers. These professionals work with your students every day. They should be able to recognize the signs and share cautionary practices often—telling students to stay home if they don’t feel well, to check in often with campus medical providers, use good hygiene, wash their hands frequently, and avoiding sharing food and drink.

Focus on Basic Wellness Procedures

Food sharing occurs most often at the lower grade levels, while sharing drink containers occurs among the teenage high school students all too often. Remind all students and faculty of basic health and cautionary practices. You might even decide to reaffirm your commitment to these practices and protocols as a community to remain healthy.

Consider Large Changes With Caution

Interestingly, some schools look at the long game and wonder how far out to plan, given things are changing rapidly. For instance, should you restrict or require students to change their spring break plans? The early days of March are weeks away, but planning may need to happen now. School officials should guide students to stay safe and plan accordingly.

Every decision made should be through the lens of what is in the best interest of the students.

Your school must fully understand that mandating any change in travel plans may likely require the school to facilitate accommodations. Students will need assistance, at the very least, and then appropriate supervision, like any other day in the life of a school. So be careful and diplomatic when making and delivering your decisions. Check in with and listen to parents’ concerns while keeping the best for all constituencies in mind.


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Should Schools Prohibit International Students From Traveling Home?

Prohibiting international students from traveling home is not something schools should consider at this time. Official health agencies monitoring the situation will likely make decisions regarding travel warnings as matters progress. The State Department and the CDC’s warnings remain at the same level and now include information about the outbreak. Any nonessential travel to all of China is now not recommended. Pay attention to all official agency recommendations and plan accordingly.

Setting policy surrounding travel for international students should be completed long before public health issues arise. Be cautious about prematurely dismantling established relationships between your school community and any ethnic group.

Establishing a policy that sets one group apart can seem arbitrary, capricious, and ultimately discriminating. Be careful not to apply stigma to an already difficult situation. Know your school community and appeal to its most generous and kind qualities amid a time of fear and anxiety.

Agency officials recommend school leaders continue to work with local and state health departments and remain informed through cautionary notifications issued by the WHO and the CDC. Stay in contact with your school community and perhaps even your school’s legal counsel in terms of “reasonable person” and liability. Have a plan for serious—even crisis, messaging—and then prepare for the possible need for extensive health screening on your campus.

How Will This Impact International Programs Long-Term?

As of January 28, the Ministry of Education in China has canceled the February schedule for standardized testing, including the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language. These exams are required by many schools as part of admission criteria.

Schools will likely need to be flexible when requesting and receiving delayed testing and scores. The private school world has weathered such events in the past, being nimble is one of their best qualities.

Update: The Coronavirus Progresses

Staying Informed

Crowdsourcing and information sharing have been vital during the Coronavirus outbreak. It’s vital for your school to not feel alone when contemplating this issue—contact colleagues in the international education field, seek counsel, and make certain to connect with local and state health departments for updated advisories and protocols.

We recommend continuing to reference the following sources for updates:

Travel Restrictions

This outbreak has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization and the U.S State Department travel advisory. This has caused airlines to cancel flights to and from mainland China.

In many cases, the decision to allow students to travel home has been made for schools. Now you must prepare to assist students in the event these restrictions remain in place through your scheduled spring break.

Crisis Communication and Planning

This is a time to recognize how your school responds to crises, both internally and externally, and then how you execute a response plan.

Whether your school is directly or indirectly affected by the current outbreak and travel restrictions, this is a good time to stress test your school’s emergency response plans in general.

Stay Calm, Informed, and Ready to Respond

How your school responds to this outbreak helps reveal true character. We believe responding with compassion and concern, keeping students’ safety at the core of all decisions, will illustrate your value to your community. Act with a conscience and seek assistance with your response plan when needed.

If you need help or have questions, we’re happy to answer. Email us at and we’ll respond ASAP.


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