Closure of the school gates may have brought relief from some concerns, but moving to online learning and keeping the school afloat bring continuing obligations.
School boards need to continue to meet and govern the school, even when students are not on campus.
These challenging times are also a test of the Board’s effectives. It’s easy to be a leader when everything is going well. But, in the words of a fellow cancer survivor, Mary Tyler Moore, You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.
Here are our top tips for Boards and the leadership team of key considerations to keep in mind as schools move online.
This does not stop. The requirements of Ministerial Order 870 include that the Board (or other governing authority) develop strategies for embedding a culture of child safety at the school. The Board needs to (among other things) develop risk management strategies pertinent to the online environment, and still vet teachers, still have reporting channels for reports of suspected child abuse and deliver education to children about standards of behaviour.
Some immediate tips to consider:
- Are teachers allowed to separately tutor students one-on-one?
- Is there a protocol about students and staff creating chat rooms or study groups (potentially on unsecure platforms) and/or creating separate Zoom groups within a current Zoom virtual classroom?
- Do your policies, procedures and codes of conduct need to be updated to reflect an online teaching environment?
- Do your staff need training on how to maintain a child safe environment and their continuing obligations?
Zoom-hosted and other virtual classrooms raise issues of privacy. Parents should not participate or conduct conversations in virtual classrooms, even if present to supervise. Similarly, educators should not refer to ill students or family members other than “they are away from school today”.
Groups of children online need to be reminded about cyber-bullying. The usual rules need to be emphasised, as does parent control over devices. They should be inaccessible at night, despite the changes. Consider if teachers are able to monitor conversations between students that occur on school sanctioned online platforms, recognising that it is likely that the school’s duty of care will extend to any cyber-bullying or inappropriate messaging that occurs on school platforms.
Cancellation Fees & Refunds
Check all provider contracts and their cancellation clauses. Do not assume a refund is available. Earlier termination may be considered better, but beware fixed term contracts – you may have to pay them out in full, unless you can point to “frustration” or external factors.
Many contracts will allow the builders to walk offsite and make this the school’s problem. Check the force majeure clause to see whether the school has rights to terminate and/or receive back deposits paid.
Check lease terms to understand the implications of non-payment of rent. Re-negotiate rent holidays early.
Enrolments, behaviour and payment terms
Consider what you will do if an enrolment agreement allows the school to terminate, particularly around behaviour. Will the duty of care mean you have to find another school for any students that the school terminates? If terminating for non-payment, what is the school’s credit policy? Does this need to be reviewed? Will the school prefer to keep enrolments, and the funding? Note you will need a sufficient number of non-parent board members to vote on any changes to fee or credit policies, because parent board members will need to declare a conflict of interest.
Holding board meetings electronically
Does your constitution actually allow this? Many are too old and were drafted before emails and telemeetings existed. You may need to amend the constitution to ensure your resolutions are valid in online meetings (query if you can hold a members’ meeting). Furthermore, given the need for fast decision making during these critical times, consider if your constitution allows resolutions to be made by circulation and ensure you are complying with the requisite notice requirements before voting on resolutions.
Solvency and Deeds of Indemnity
Directors must ensure the school is solvent – this is a directors’ duty. Even though the law has been temporarily changed to allow insolvent trading in the ordinary course of business for a period of 6 months, the usual rules of good decision making apply. The laws have been relaxed, not repealed, so directors are still required to exercise sound judgment and not breach other directors’ duties. For example, causing school insolvency by entering into a prohibited arrangement would still be an issue. Entering into a modelled temporary insolvency to pay staff who are still working and who will be needed after the crisis, in the context of considered and suitable cost cutting, would be much less problematic.
Flexibility and workforce restructuring need to be considered.
What measures do you need to ensure wellbeing and connectedness? Will children be in uniform/complying with dress code? (Some schools say uniform only required on the visible top half). How will distressed students access school counsellors?
How we can help
Moores is still working and available 24/7 to support you. For more information or guidance, please do not hesitate contact us.