Updated on March 26, 2020, to include summary of topics.
Updated on March 11, 2020, adding information on Childcare and Venue Rental Agreements.
This post covers the following topics: Advocating for All, Childcare, Supporting Schools, Events and Activities, Venue Rental Agreements, Virtual Meetings, Donating to Families, and Media Inquiries.
Our local PTAs and PTA councils are at the forefront of the COVID-19 disease (coronavirus) that has hit our state. Below is some advice on how best to respond as a PTA to this rapidly changing situation. Note that this is advice for and about PTAs. It does not necessarily encompass all potential scenarios as each community will have different needs and responses. For guidance on how best to protect your health and your family, please visit the Washington State Department of Health website and the website for your local public health department.
Advocating for All
If your school or school district does shut down, local PTAs and councils can be a real help by advocating for all students’ needs. Is the school or school district addressing these issues?
- Equity – Does every family have access to sufficient devices and internet so all students can participate in online learning?
- Meals – Students in the free and reduced meal program will not be in buildings to receive what may be their only meals of the day, are there actions being taken to address this?
- Special Education – If schools close but switch to online learning, how do all students continue to receive the services they are legally entitled to?
Due to licensing, insurance, and liability concerns, PTAs should not be providing childcare directly. Instead, PTAs can act as an information clearinghouse, sharing information with families about childcare options in their communities.
Communication is key to help us all through this situation. If your PTA is looking for ways to help your school, the first step is to ask the school how you can help. However, be sure to continue to follow the “rules” that limit your liability. See the Leadership Guide on Insurance on our website.
One easy way to help schools is to use the communication channels that you have in place. As an engaged parent or family member, you will want to share what you learn with others both in and outside your PTA.
Events and Activities
In consultation with their local health departments, schools and school districts are putting protocols in place to protect their students and staff. A good rule of thumb would be for a PTA to follow those same protocols. You also will want to follow any guidance provided by your local health department. (Some are recommending maximum meeting size.) If your school is shut down, postpone or cancel the event or activity. If any outside vendors were involved, explain the situation to them and ask for their help in finding a solution that meets all your needs.
Venue Rental Agreements
Each school district has different policies and regulations regarding their facility use agreements. If a school is no longer available for a PTA’s use, then negotiate new terms with the school or district. Often times they will be happy to carry credit and avoid issuing a refund. School personnel are our partners in this and usually happy to negotiate changes. Patience is warranted, though, as we navigate these uncharted waters together.
Both boards of directors’ meetings and membership meetings can be held by video or audio conference calls. However, they cannot be held via a chat app or other online tools like email. The key consideration is that members must be able to both hear and respond to each other. Voting and all other normal business activities are allowed although voting should be done by roll call.
When planning a virtual meeting, it is important to consider your membership. Video conferences only work well if all participants have broadband. Likewise, most conference call services involve calling into a long-distance number.
The only other major difference is that virtual meetings can become very chaotic very quickly. The presider (president) needs to be prepared for this, requiring that attendees speak one at a time and that all discussion be focused on the agenda item at hand.
Other than this, all the regular rules apply. Take attendance, establish a quorum, and prepare minutes. Give plenty of notice – at least 10 days for membership meetings, 5 days for special board meetings. Abide by your standing rules.
If your standing rules allow for it, you can hold elections via email rather than at a meeting. There are several online survey tools that make this an easy solution. For more information on this, check out Mail, Email and Electronic Voting on the leadership guide webpage.
Donating to Families
PTA members have big hearts and are looking for ways to support families who are in need. However, per IRS regulations, it is not a good idea for PTAs to raise money and give cash directly to families. Instead, consider requesting in-kind donations of food and supplies. Ask the families what they need then ask the membership to purchase and donate the supplies. Like many churches do in times of crisis, the PTA can act as a clearinghouse of direct support.
As a PTA leader, you may be contacted by the media asking for the parents’ perspective on this situation. Please review our blog post on this time, Ten Tips for Speaking with Media, to prepare for this eventuality.