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Winter Weather Reminders: Schools’ Role in Disaster Recovery

Jack Frost reared his ugly head this week as winter storm Grayson froze the deep south and dumped snow on the Northeast.

By the end of Thursday, communities that rarely see winter weather in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas were dealing with the double whammy of both ice and snow, while areas of New England were prepping for blizzard-like conditions.

With temperatures at historic lows, communities up and down the eastern seaboard are digging out or hunkering down from the biggest winter storm we’ve seen this year.

While the winter weather has already produced hundreds of school closings throughout the region, local schools also will play a critical role in helping their communities recover from the storm.

Here’s four steps you can take to ensure you’re supporting your students, staff, and community in the wake of the latest severe weather event.

Be prepared

Much to the chagrin of meteorologists everywhere, weather is unpredictable, which makes it hard for schools to prepare for every possibility.

But, as much as possible, districts need to have a strategy for dealing with extreme weather and natural disasters. That includes a plan for making decisions about school closings, a robust system to share the latest information, and contingency plans for when school buildings are damaged.

Include your community in drafting and implementing these plans, and don’t be afraid to adapt your strategy when necessary.

Communicate constantly

The worst thing you can do in the face of extreme weather is leave your community in the dark.

Maintain a constant dialogue with your families, employees, and other stakeholders. That means making announcements in as many ways as possible. Whether it’s email, social media, face-to-face conversations, or other methods—make sure you’re reaching your community members where they are. And give them an easy way to reach you.

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Yes, you’ll need to make many important announcements, but it’s just as important that you listen. In the chaos of a disaster, your community may have more accurate information than you. And, when families need your help, it should be easy for them to ask for it.

Become community centers

Where feasible, transform your schools into central locations that can support recovery efforts. Community schools can provide services beyond academics.

That may mean opening your doors to families who’ve lost power or heat. It may simply mean providing emotional support to families.

You can also be a virtual communication center for families by making sure questions you receive get answered by the right authorities, and sharing that information publicly.

Provide ongoing support

After your community thaws out, the effects of winter weather are sure to linger over the lives of students, families, and staff. Engagement and attention will suffer.

Anticipate this. Double down on efforts to engage students and parents online and in-person. Provide social and emotional support services and other resources to help students and families recover their momentum and re-engage in your mission.

Do you have a plan to support your community when extreme weather strikes? Does your community understand your process for making school closing decisions? Tell us in the comments.