In any given election year, October is a busy one. Election and candidate information dominate the news cycle. We are bombarded by positive and negative details through the mail, on television, and via social media. There are debates to watch, critique, and pundit. The news headlines are chock full of candidates’ strengths, flaws, and histories. Late night show clips and political memes are shared widely by friends and family.
As citizens, each election presents very real decisions to be made with very real implications for our future. Parents and educators are keenly aware that we are modeling behavior, thoughts, and language choices for our children and students that will affect not only their learning, but their interactions with their friends and classmates.
This year in particular, we are also battling additional feelings of helplessness and for some, even, hopelessness. We have spent 2020 navigating dizzying amounts of information around a largely unknown new disease, and have adjusted almost every single aspect of our lives accordingly. Some of us are still isolating at home after seven months, with no end in sight. The political landscape does seem vast, but unlike the pandemic, there is an end in sight.
I often say that we are in this together, and on the morning of November 4th, those words will echo loudly and clearly. While it may take longer to understand our election results this year, we will have some data. More importantly, there will be widespread reporting, assessment, opining, debating, information gathering and dissemination, and inevitable emotional impact. We will see results about some local propositions and referendums. We will see definitive voting for some of our local leadership. We will likely have reasons to celebrate and reasons to mourn, and the angst that accompanies the limbo until everything is finalized.
Above all, we must not lose sight of our two driving forces. The same forces that have impelled us during this pandemic, but have different implications in the context of heightened political action.
Those two forces are: Safety and Community.
Safety: have you…?
- Revisited your safety plan? Do you have codified procedures in the event of protests, or general community unrest? This would be an ideal time to proactively revisit your plans: What are your procedures for Lockdown, Secure Campus, and/or Shelter in Place?
- Developed/Reviewed your Command Center/Incident Command Process to ensure that you’re ready to activate lockdown, secure campus, etc. Initiate this conversation now so that decision-makers aware that they may have to make decisions that prioritize life safety over COVID mitigation strategies (e.g. bringing everyone indoors and closer-than-6-feet if we have an immediate safety concern otherwise?)
- Analyzed your current security strategy? Schools have been limiting on-campus visitors; what is working well and what needs improvement? Have you reassessed your perimeter security, on-campus security, and incident documentation protocols?
- Trained faculty and staff on immediate responses (e.g. Lockdown) as well as incident reporting procedures?
Community: have you…?
- Held discussions with faculty and staff regarding their own participation in community gatherings, sharing best practices around social distancing, face coverings, and representation of the school. In addition, for schools with older students (Middle and High School students), what is being shared with them about balancing civic duty with personal safety?
- The beginning of this school year required signed documentation adhering to cohort integrity in and outside of school. Please act accordingly in these next few weeks, especially light of possible news coverage and social media.
- Communicated with families about election-specific non-partisan resources available for them and their students?
- Partnered with teachers/librarians to implement curriculum and learning materials that teach the structures of democracy, civic-mindedness, leadership, and digital/media literacy.
- Created a plan for coming together as a community? Now, more than ever, it’s going to be important to plan for opportunities and structured events for connection and support regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum. Can we plan a virtual All-School Sing as a way of coming together? Can we do a drive-through parade of local fire stations to share love for first responders? What are the things that bring us together as a community despite our political similarities and differences, and how can we make sure we lean into those fully in the coming weeks and months?
**Note: This applies predominantly to schools in urban areas and/or near churches, temples, parks, gathering spaces, etc.**
- Established the right vendor relationships:
- Security: If we become aware of a protest or gathering on or near campus, in addition to local police, we may want to have an extended presence from private security. Who will we call? Armed or unarmed? Take that question to your Leadership Team for discussion and decision!
- Boarding: Particularly for those who are in Downtown areas with lots of glass, consider boarding windows in advance of the election and/or at least be prepared to board windows during. When doing so, consider writing/painting words like "School" in highly visible lettering. It won't always work, but in our experience it has redirected protestors and looters away.
- Crisis Management: In the event that a person in your community becomes injured or otherwise involved with any civil unrest or similar activity, be sure that you have a clear plan for who will help you lead the community through that from a communications, messaging and media perspective.
- Pro tip: Tabletop 3 scenarios: Student, Parent, Head of School/Principal
Now is an ideal time to ensure that draft communications have been prepared for the community so that they are ready to go, in the event of a lockdown, closedown, or early dismissal.
- Internal (faculty/staff)
- Reminder to staff about communications with students about gatherings outside school cohorts
- Reminder about drills and what’s different this year, with physical distancing
- Reminder about beginning of the year agreements and acting accordingly
- External (families)
- Reminder about beginning of the year agreements and acting accordingly while participating in events
- Reminder about community norms and expectations for respectful behavior and language, dress codes
- Town Hall and/or written piece about elections to go November 4th (perhaps a flexible draft allowing for various scenarios)
- Reminder about participating in community gatherings and protests and its role in exposure
Politics can be divisive and highlight our differences, but can also create meaningful conversations and bring people together. In a world where many have felt powerless, our actions in the next 30 days will truly impact the future. Regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, we can come together in a human commitment to two things: Safety, and Community.
Be safe, be well, vote, get your flu shot, and remember to breathe.