Wondering what the new year might bring? Here’s our best (educated) guess about what schools will face in 2022. It’s paired with our best advice for how to prepare for each to maintain a safe, secure and healthy community.
Over the past two years, life has felt anything but normal. And this is likely to continue over the next few weeks as we restart school amidst Omicron. Between a surge in infections, quarantines and potential staffing shortages, schools may struggle to remain open, and some schools will undoubtedly suspend in-person learning at times.
There may be points where it feels like we’ve stepped back in time to 2020, but we must remember: this time it’s different. Why? Well, there are actually many reasons, but fundamentally, it comes down to an equation:
Risk = Severity x Consequence
We’ve learned that closing schools is a very high risk response, as it has both great severity and great consequences for students, staff, and organizational resilience. While there is risk involved in keeping schools open, the risk is more isolated to individuals within a community than to the community as a whole. This is part of the reason the CDC has officially endorsed a “test-to-stay” approach for schools, allowing unvaccinated individuals who were exposed to Covid but are asymptomatic and test negative to stay on campus. Keeping students safely on campus has become - and will remain - the primary focus. As we begin to see the potential for Covid to become endemic, this commitment to keeping students on campus will be key to developing our “new normal”.
How to prepare:
Continue to build and strengthen your health programs - As we shift into a reality where Covid is an ongoing fact of life, having a high-quality health program will be more important than ever. When we can respond quickly and thoughtfully to Covid cases on campus, we can move away from the Covid-centered state of paralysis that has characterized the past two years, and begin finding a more normal and healthy balance. Investing the time, energy, and staff time now to strengthen your program will pay dividends over the next year. (If you need staffing support in this effort, we’re here to help!)
Consider implementing a test-to-stay approach - Whether you implement it next week, next month, or next school year, test-to-stay is a valuable tool in helping keep members of your community on campus. If you’re wondering where to start, our test-to-stay toolkit is a helpful resource.
2. Vaccination mandates for 2022-23 admission
We believe that in most states, Departments of Health and Departments of Education will require vaccinations for adults and students for fall 2022 admission. We don’t make this assertion lightly - we have seen this building over time across the country and we think it is likely to continue. There will be outliers to be sure (Texas & Florida are expected to be among them), but we anticipate that we’ll see mandates expanded in most other states.
Of course, we don’t have a crystal ball and vaccine mandates are complex and challenging to implement, so the road to mandates may not be a straight one. But either way, we know that the greatest protection against Covid-19 is driven by mandates, and that mandates at a regional to state level are particularly effective, so we believe we’ll see more and more of these play out over time.
How to prepare:
Create a mandate game plan - If your school community does not currently have a plan in place for mandates, now is the time to start planning. You’ll want to consider a number of factors in making your decision, and our vaccination mandate toolkit can help you think through the big questions and issues.
3. Greater - and more urgent - mental health and social-emotional needs among students
This has been a year like none other when it comes to mental health and behavioral challenges on campus. Record numbers of school shootings, upticks in violence, social-media fueled vandalism… it has felt like a cascade of destructive and self-destructive behavior has plagued our schools over the past six months. Many schools have made great progress and built strong systems to identify, prevent, and address students’ distress. But unfortunately, we expect this to continue through the upcoming year. In fact, Dr. Bruce Perry suggested that we’re likely looking at the end of next school year before the relationship quotient (our words, not his) stabilizes and students are behaving and participating in school normally again.
How to prepare:
Maintain your health and mental health staff - As you build your budget for the upcoming year, plan to keep your current staff in place (or even staff up, if you’re able to) through the end of next year, at least. This will be important to make sure you have what you need to meet the evolving needs of your community, and address urgent issues that may arise.
Leverage connections, data, and monitoring - It will be imperative to have systems in place to track behavior changes in students and monitor threats on campus and online. Equally important is the ability for faculty and staff to proactively address these behavior issues and threats with compassion, understanding, and a genuine interest in building connection. As schools consider ways to prepare their campuses for the new year, the three simple practices of leveraging connections, data and monitoring can help. More details are included in this blog post.
4. Demand for school security that outpaces supply
With the mental health challenges our communities are facing, school security has become a bigger and bigger priority at many schools. The number of requests we have been receiving for security services has increased exponentially this year.
Security companies - like everyone else - are struggling to find hourly workers. We know this first hand, because we’re struggling ourselves (and we pay and provide a better work experience than most!).
You may be compelled to hire security in house, thinking you can do better with your school’s benefits package and while that’s not inherently wrong, we want to encourage you to engage your insurance partner in this conversation thoroughly. We know with great certainty that, by nature of their work, security staff is a higher risk group than other school staff and faculty.
How to prepare:
Hire a firm that works with schools primarily or exclusively - Firms that work with schools will be much better equipped to support your community and meet your unique needs. Consider offering an increase in bill rate to account for trouble hiring (an additional $3 - 5/ hr can help offset the impact of the labor shortage). While this may be challenging from a budgeting standpoint, it is likely to be what’s required in the current market to get quality officers. (Once the labor market re-balances, the hourly rate can always be revisited.)
Integrate and include security officers in your community - If you want security to be a part of your community, you have to make that happen through integrating them in - invite them to the holiday party, invite them to participate in the end of year survey, etc. If you don’t want them there, you probably need a different team / company. For additional information about school security, see our Ultimate Guide to School Security.
5. An uptick in cybersecurity threats for schools
Ransomware threats are on the rise and they’re moving to the education sector. Across the ~2,000 schools we’re supporting actively, we have seen over a dozen. If that gives you any indication, these are likely to be headed your way at some point in the future.
Attacking devices that are used as part of the broader IoT network/infrastructure. This includes everything from Smartboards to HVAC systems to building alarm systems. If it’s digital, it can be hacked. If it can be hacked, you must account for how to endure without it. Flipping to virtual may be an option, but we need to do more in this area and have more effective conversations.
Most schools are using at least 6 separate cloud-based systems, everything from SIS to ENS to Fundraising softwares. We’ll see these systems attacked throughout the year(s) ahead and will need to cope with these. Even the big ones. The bigger they are, the more likely they’ll have a great plan in place to support schools through the aftermath.
Most schools are still also using an old server in a server room on campus. Some readers might be appalled that they’re only using one, others might be equally appalled that there’s one on campus still. Net, net, depending on what you’re housing there (Active Directory, etc.) there’s an opening there that even some students have been able to exploit.
How to prepare:
Limit access to devices - Establish Access Control measures and protocols to ensure devices are always secure. And be sure to secure devices when they are not in use.
Employ strong passwords and password best practices - It is critical to have unique, complex passwords, and not to share passwords. We recommend utilizing a password manager like LastPass or 1Password to keep track of unique passwords.
Use a Mobile Device Management system - For any employees with school-sponsored devices, using a Mobile Device Management system can help ensure they stay secure. Be sure your system has remote wiping capability to enable you to wipe any sensitive information from misplaced or stolen devices.
Keep operating systems and security software up to date - Having out of date systems and software leaves your school vulnerable to a cyberattack. Be sure all devices and systems are updated regularly.
Establish clear notification and escalation procedures - Create systems to ensure the IT team is notified quickly when a device goes missing or is compromised.
Consider a Cyber Security Audit - Auditing your current systems can highlight holes or vulnerabilities you may not be aware of. It is a good idea to conduct an audit this year, particularly if your school has not had one done recently.