Has the board’s role changed because of COVID-19?
The last few years have certainly been a year of enormous challenge in terms of teaching and learning. For all of us, what we do and how we do it has been disrupted and, for many of us, completely over-turned.
At times like this it is critical that we, the governing boards of our schools, keep our focus on the end game – honouring our school’s values and vision, steering the school towards our long-term strategic goals and achieving our board primary objectives. Even if we must pause or veer off our expected path or alter our goals for a while, we are still heading in the same direction.
Part of our role in ensuring that our schools stay on track is to monitor what is happening, what is being achieved and what we have had to put on hold. We continue to seek assessment information from our principal - albeit that there may be some variance in what we had hoped to achieve this year and what we have actually managed.
Health and Safety considerations
NZSTA encourages Boards to be aware of their obligations under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Protection Framework) Order 2021 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 when it comes to mask use within a school setting.
This legislation requires Boards to meet the primary duty of care which is to look after the health and safety of workers and others so far as is reasonably practicable.
One of the recent significant changes for schools is the introduction of the COVID Protection Framework. After spending some time in Red, we are all now under the Orange setting. One of the areas of concern for schools is mask-wearing. While they are no longer required, they are “strongly encouraged”.
If a decision is made to require masks for employees and/or students, it should be the outcome of a risk assessment process carried out in accordance with the school’s Health and Safety policy and in the context of the ongoing pandemic.
Employees can share their thoughts with their school’s Health and Safety Committee to inform the position and policies of the school.
Te Mahau has further information available here.
Worksafe link – COVID Risk Assessment
NZSTA Webinar on H&S Risk Assessment link
Board meeting over electronic means
No board business can be transacted unless a quorum of the board is present at the meeting. A quorum is more than half of the board members currently holding office.
COVID-19 requirements could, potentially, mean that a board is unable to convene a quorum at a face-to-face meeting.
There is information here for those boards who wish to meet electronically – link to RCA - Board Meetings via Electronic Means
Dealing with complaints
COVID-19 has created, and continues to create levels of high stress for our staff, students, parents and whānau. At times like this, boards may have to deal with an increase in the volume of complaints they receive. Now is a good time to pause, take a breath and remind ourselves of tried-and-true processes that will help us through.
Even though these are unusual times we should stick to our usual practice including, firstly, ensuring that the person raising the issue has followed the school’s concerns and complaints process, (each school should have their own). If they have not, we should gently but firmly guide them to do so. This has potential to exacerbate the tension that already exists, but following the process helps ensure the principles of natural justice are upheld and that the board is acting as a good employer within conditions of any employment agreements. It helps reassure the complainant that their complaint is being taken seriously as well. Once a complaint has been legitimately escalated to governance level, we may wish to establish a delegated committee to deal with it. This will mean that the rest of the board is more easily able to focus on the governance of the school.
Resource centre link – Concerns and Complaints
NZSTA Governance framework – D9 – Example concerns and complaints policy
NZSTA Governance framework – C4 – Example concerns and complaints process
NZSTA Governance support resource – Principles of natural justice
NZSTA Governance support resource – Board delegations
NZSTA Governance support resource – Public excluded business
Employment matters: For detailed information in relation to managing staffing, please refer to https://www.nzsta.org.nz/advice-and-support/covid-19-employment-matters/
For latest up-to-date information see the Ministry of Education website COVID-19 advice for schools and kura – Education in New Zealand