Risk Managers’ Forum
By Kyle Drawdy
K-12 AND THE NEW NORMAL
Innovative and quick education solutions have raised other issues that need to be addressed
As I write this, my oldest son, who’s in middle school, is sitting on the couch with his feet on the coffee table typing a World History report on the family laptop. My middle child is at the kitchen counter with his school-supplied Chrome-book. His headphones are on and he’s watching his teacher explain a math problem I can’t solve. He’s a third grader. My daughter (the youngest) has two wooden spoons and is following the beat of a YouTube video her music teacher assigned her.
What teachers have always known (and what parents are quickly learning) is that educating our children is not an easy job. It isn’t something anyone can easily replicate in a virtual environment from a living room.
This is now a typical weekday in my house. If you have children, I’m sure you’re experiencing something similar. So, the question on my mind (and maybe yours as well) is, when are these amazing little angels going back to school and can it please be tomorrow?
That may not be an easy question to answer.
COVID-19 has challenged our business continuity plans or perhaps rendered them useless. Education has changed dramatically over the past several weeks, forcing teachers and students to adapt to this new normal and deal with uncertainty. For those of us in risk management, we make it our business to understand and place a value on uncertainty. We strive to understand the impact that uncertainty has on our business objectives and what steps we can take to mitigate this impact.
As the country issued shelter-in-place orders or safer-at-home directives, the educational system found a way to fulfill its mission while ensuring the
safety of our students. Virtual education quickly became the standard and, for many school districts, this was a brave new world. This new world was not without risk and logistical issues. The Constitution requires that all children be given equal educational opportunities, no matter their race, ethnic background, religion, sex, or socioeconomic status. This equity of education must be considered when decisions are being weighed, so that the most vulnerable of our children are not left behind.
These innovative and quick solutions can sometimes identify other problems. As Chromebooks were distributed to facilitate virtual learning, we learned that a large number of students did not have internet access at home. This same group of students was also more likely to qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Two problems, one solution. To address evolving issues like these, busses that once transported students to and from school are now transporting breakfast and lunches to designated spots so children can still have hot meals. These same busses also provide mobile hotspots for students without access to broadband. Schools also allowed parents and students to park in their parking lots to access Wi-Fi.
While these solutions provided needed access to the internet, they also created additional risks and exposures for school districts. How do you regulate who’s on your campus accessing Wi-Fi? What personal protective equipment should be provided to bus drivers delivering food to students? Are students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans receiving the additional accommodations and support they require? These are all questions we must not fail to consider.
What to do?
What teachers have always known (and what parents are quickly learning) is that educating our children is not an easy job. It isn’t something anyone can easily replicate in a virtual environment from a living room. What can we do on our part to help schools open back up?
Social distancing, which has become a household term, is one option. However, due to the amount of physical space in classrooms, this option limits how many students get to return to schools and be kept at a six-foot distance from each other. Imagine how difficult it will be to keep kids separated during lunch and physical education classes. How do we safely transport kids to school on busses that are typically full?
Perhaps a hybrid online and physical option could work. This could mean that half the students would attend class in person while the other half attended virtually.
Perhaps a hybrid online and physical option could work. This could mean that half the students would attend class in person while the other half attended virtually. Although this option has potential, the logistics may be difficult to implement. As students switched back and forth between virtual and physical settings, deep cleaning and disinfecting of classrooms would be required nightly. As for parents, would employers allow them to work from home every other day? What if only elementary school students attended physical classes while middle and high school students attended virtual ones?
While these are not easy questions to answer, one thing is clear: Risk management needs to be included in all these decisions. Hopefully, your organization has implemented a form of Enterprise Risk Management, but if not, now might be the perfect time to start.
For more information about risk management programs for schools, visit www.scic.com.
Kyle Drawdy is the director of risk management for the North East Florida Educational Consortium, which consists of 13 rural school districts. The risk management program is responsible for providing risk control and financing options for the combined exposure of $3.6 billion in total insurable value (TIV), 126,000 students, and 18,000 employees. Previously, Kyle was a risk manager for the Florida College System. Kyle is also a consultant and faculty member of the National Alliance of Insurance Education & Research and has obtained his CIC, CRM, and ARM designations.