If Disaster Strikes – Can You Still Have Class? Understanding Business Continuity

Most schools have a Crisis Preparedness Plan in place, however, we find a key business continuity component is often missing.

The development of a Business Continuity Plan is essential in order for a school have the capacity to continue operations at acceptable predefined levels following a disruptive incident or recover to pre-loss levels as quickly as possible.

Formation of the Business Continuity Plan requires a holistic risk management process that identifies potential threats to a school and the impacts to operations those threats, if realized, might cause.

This process then provides the school with a framework for building institutional resilience with the capability of an effective response that safeguards the interests of its key stakeholders, reputation, brand and value-creating activities.

Some key considerations to address the various risks might include:

  • Use of temporary staff (teaching/non-teaching)
  • Cross training to ensure staff can undertake different roles and responsibilities through job shadowing
  • Undertaking temporary additional duties
  • Using different ways of working to allow for a reduced workforce. This could include:
    • Use of pre-prepared educational materials that allow for independent learning
    • Team activities and sports to accommodate larger numbers of pupils at once
    • Larger class sizes (subject to relevant ratios)
    • Virtual learning environment opportunities
  • Suspending ‘non-critical’ activities
  • Using mutual support agreements with other schools
  • Ensuring that the business continuity aspects of staff management (human resources) are considered in all management arrangements, such as:
    • managing attendance
    • job descriptions
    • contractual obligations/requirements etc.
  • Insurance Coverage
  • Pre-identified alternative suppliers
    • Generators
    • Servers
    • Portable classrooms, etc.

The latter requires that the school ensure all external providers have a Business Continuity Plan in place, as well as an understanding of the impact to their plan on the delivery of your critical activities in the event of an incident.

Once the plan is in place, continual review, monitoring and modification is required, as exposures and priorities change.

Lastly, the use of table top exercises creates an opportunity to put the plan into action prior to the crisis, providing an opportunity to make mistakes and necessary corrections so that the plan is seamless and effective at the time it is needed most.

The NAIS Trustee Handbook clarifies that the responsibility of managing a school’s risk begins at the board level, when it states: “The board’s role is to ensure that the appropriate institutional and operational policies—such as personnel, student activities and behavior, crisis management, and financial management—are in place and that the school is following those policies and the resulting procedures every day in a consistent, fair manner.” And goes on to state “…the best protection against a suit is an active board of trustees that exercises its governance role with great care.”

In addition, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges reiterates this fiduciary role when it states “a board member must act in a manner that he or she reasonably believes to be in the best interests of the institution.”

Accordingly, the development of a Business Continuity Plan clearly falls within the scope of fiduciary responsibility and oversight of the Board of Trustees and execution of their directive should then be fulfilled by the Head of School and other key school administrators under their guidance.


About Cheryl McDowell

Cheryl has over 30 years of experience in the areas of insurance and risk management. With Bolton’s Education Practice Group, she works with education clients to review and improve their existing risk management and insurance programs, including coordination of forensic audits of the school’s existing risk management and insurance programs.

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