COVID-19: Information for Boards

Has the board’s role changed because of COVID-19?

No, the board’s role is still governing the school. The principal still has responsibility for operational matters. The only thing that may change for some schools is that the Secretary for Education now has temporary emergency powers including the power to:

  • Direct a school to open or close, or vary their hours
  • Direct how they operate, and how they are controlled or managed
  • Direct education providers to provide education in specified ways, such as through distance or online learning.

This is being done to ensure a unified and coordinated educational response to the COVID-19 outbreak and to enable the Government and the Ministry to act quickly in the best interests of educators, parents and whānau when required.

These powers will only be used when absolutely necessary in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Holding board meetings at COVID-19 Level 2

At Alert Level 2, school board meetings fit under the ‘public meetings’ category of ‘gatherings outside the home’ rather than being considered part of school operations.

As public meetings they are subject to the requirements to:

  • Have no more than 10 people
  • Not be longer than two hours
  • Keep high hygiene standards
  • Record attendees to ensure contact tracing can be conducted if necessary.

This means that some boards (with ten or fewer members) will be able to meet in person under Alert level 2. Boards that have more than 10 members, for example boards of some state integrated schools, will need to keep up their use of technology to hold meetings.

Boards should be aware that public excluded business (PEB, or ‘in-committee’ business) aside, meetings held remotely are still open to the public. Members of the public should still be able to observe the open parts of the meeting – by electronic means if necessary.

Advice on how to hold electronic meetings and livestream board meetings is available on our website.

The board’s role in student attendance and engagement

The COVID-19 outbreak has thrown a spotlight on issues that might previously have received less attention, including that of enrolled students not attending school. In this article, we consider how school boards can play their part in a holistic approach to strengthen student engagement.

Why, apart from our legal obligations under the Education Act, should non-attendance be of such concern to school boards?

Students need to be present and engaged at school in order to learn.

What are the most common causes of non-attendance?

The answer to this is vast and varied. Each board of trustees will notice that some causes listed here are of significant relevance to their school while others are not. Other boards will be able to identify causes that are not listed at all, the important thing is to recognise and take action to mitigate any barriers that prevent students fully engaging in school life.

  • Transience
  • Victimisation – bullying or racism
  • Needed to help at home
  • At work
  • Avoidance - finding schoolwork difficult but not comfortable to ask for help
  • Unable to envisage the value of education
  • Pure truancy – something better to do
  • Sense of belonging – feeling that their needs as students are not being met

How can the board help?

Sometimes it is hard for us to restrict ourselves to the realms of governance and not stray into pastoral care or student management. Nonetheless, the board has a critical role in setting goals, expectations and the culture of the school. As trustees we can:

  • Ask for data on the underlying reasons for non-attendance – we can only address the problem once we have identified it
  • Survey students and their families around how welcome, safe and supported they feel at school*
  • Seek input from the school’s wider community as appropriate – this could be local hapū, iwi, church
  • Ask for data on the impact of non-attendance on student progress and achievement – ensuring that data are anonymised. This would form part of the board’s reporting to its community on the overall progress of the school
  • Set strategic goals and expectations
  • Ask details of strategies and programmes being deployed – this might include details of how the school uses attendance services
  • Monitor the effect of these strategies and programmes and how effective they are
  • Use your students as Subject Matter Experts – this is about them, they are the experts

 Other considerations:

  • Is your board truly representative of the make up of your community – do you hear the perspective of all groups in your school whānau?
  • Build on new communication channels forged during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Keep the door open – ensure that parents know it is safe to share their concerns with the school
  • Is your school database accurate – do you have current contact details for all families? If not, how does the school contact parents if students are absent from school without explanation?
  • Keep informed - reverse your ‘line of sight’ – from the classroom up to the board table

Useful resources: 

Community engagement

This is the third article in a series about what boards might expect and do during the COVID-19 pandemic. This week we are going to consider the board’s role in community engagement 

COVID-19 has presented us with an opportunity to further strengthen our relationship with the families and whānau who make up our school community. Never before have we asked parents and caregivers to work so closely with us to ensure that there is as little as possible disruption to their children’s education. Let’s put that new-found engagement to good use at governance level too.

As we all know, the school board is made up of trustees who are at the board table to bring the perspective of the particular group which either elected or appointed them. We have the mandate to act and decide on behalf of those who put that trust in us.

However, it would be wise for us not to ‘go it alone’ but to seek guidance from those people. Now, more than ever, as parents place the safety and wellbeing of their children back into our hands, the concepts of inclusivity and transparency seem all the more important. We need to let our communities know what we are doing and – remembering that engagement is a two-way street - give them a chance to comment on and help mold our thinking and actions.

What have we done so far?

In a previous article NZSTA made some suggestions around board communications to the school’s community. We suggested that your board might like to:

  • Thank your community for its support and on-going efforts during this difficult time
  • Anticipate and create ongoing good will and collaboration
  • Include an expression of gratitude and support to principal, leadership teams, teaching staff, cleaning staff etc
  • Acknowledge the board’s responsibilities and accountabilities. Give assurance that board continues to monitor progress towards strategic and annual goals
  • Outline what has been achieved so far this year and what might need to be reprioritised as the year progresses
  • Advise any limitations that board has had to put in place during COVID-19, for example limitations to parent activity on school site e.g. drop off/pick up
  • Remind your community of its rights to access open board meetings and their minutes and how this can be done
  • Celebrate successes.

If you haven’t already sent a communication from the board, do. It’s never too late.

What’s next?

Now that we have started the conversation, let’s keep it going. Consider:

  • What feedback did the board receive to that initial communication?
  • What have we done as a result?
    • Is there any ‘follow up’ that needs to be added to the agenda of the next board meeting (certainly it should feature as board correspondence)?
  • How do we let the community know what we have done?

We might also like to take this opportunity, while we have our community’s attention (and we certainly have that at the moment) to kick-start some housekeeping projects that would benefit from (or even require) community input. How about:

  • A review of our Health and Safety policy
  • A review of our (or even the writing of a new) Pandemic Response policy and planning
  • Seeking opinion on the school’s commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • A review of our statement of delivery of health curriculum.

This might be an ideal time to establish some delegated board committees which could comprise some members of the school community to form a ‘steering group’.

Remember, these are nervous times. People like to feel that they are empowered – help them to help you guide the school.

The most important thing to remember is that communication with the board must be easy. This might be via:

  • A generic board email address such as
  • A portal on the school website
  • A suggestions drop box in the school office – although you might like to wait until COVID-19 is sorted before you put that in place

For professional development around community engagement

As NZSTA is currently unable to deliver face to face workshops, for more information please go to the NZSTA Knowledge Hub where you will find both a video and the workshop resource for Community Engagement, concerns and complaints. Following this video, you will be able to attend a Zoom meeting where you can engage in discussion about the activities provided during the video and learn alongside others, with the assistance of your facilitator. You can register your attendance at these Zoom meetings which will be advertised on the NZSTA Knowledge Hub and Eventbrite, just like our regular workshops.

What to do if students appear to have symptoms of COVID-19 at school

You do not have a right to take student temperatures as a matter of course which may result in preventing their attendance at school. Taking temperatures is not part of the public health requirements for COVID-19. Someone who has a fever looks unwell. You don’t have to take their temperature to suspect they have a fever.

As noted in the health and safety guidance school staff are to observe students on arrival into the classroom checking for symptoms and ask those presenting as unwell to go home (or arrange for parents and caregivers to come and pick up).

Symptoms to monitor for are any respiratory symptoms such as a cold, a head cold, blocked ears, cough, sneezing, chills and a fever. Anyone with those symptoms should be isolated and contact Healthline for advice, which may include getting tested for COVID-19. A principal can ask a student to not attend school if they believe on reasonable grounds they may have a communicable disease, which includes COVID-19.

What do I do if someone is sick but won’t go home?

If you are the principal of a state school, you can preclude a student who you believe on reasonable grounds may have a communicable disease (Section 19 Education Act). The student has to stay away for the infectious period of the specific disease.

Only medical experts have the ability to determine if the signs of illness presented in staff and students is influenza, early stages of measles, the COVID-19 or some other illness which has similar symptoms. However, presenting symptoms along with any relevant information such as close contact with someone diagnosed with illness or recently travelling in a region known to carry risk of infection, should inform your decision about the application of Section 19. You must inform the Medical Officer of Health, the student’s parents and your school Board of Trustees if you take action under Section 19. View the MOE guide for more information.

Knowledge Hub modules relevant to COVID-19:

There are a range of modules on the NZSTA Knowledge Hub that might be of help at this time:

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