The COVID-19 pandemic required many schools to make modifications to continue lifting up student voice and support student councils. Cocurricular programs like student councils are naturally impacted by changes made in instruction, grading, and in-school and out-of-school activities, all of which has an impact on student councils, student and adviser leaders, and council activities. Even with a return to in-person instruction for those schools that went virtual or hybrid, there may be ongoing effects of the modifications made to schooling last year that school leaders should consider as they support their student council or government.

The national office has prepared the following guidance in this updated version of the Flex Guide for advisers and principals to navigate this time of ongoing transition for many. Councils should continue, as always, to prioritize the safety and well-being of students and educators as the school emphasizes student voice and engagement in school policies, learning, and culture-building.

  • What Policies Must Councils Continue to Adhere to?

    Councils should continue to follow their constitutions or bylaws as closely as possible and recognize that some compromises may be necessary based on circumstances. Review any modifications or changes to council procedures outlined in the constitution or bylaws and communicate them to all stakeholders; the NatStuCo Handbook is a good reference for making changes to your constitution or bylaws. In all situations, councils should:

    • Make efforts to preserve selection/election criteria and candidate and member eligibility requirements.
    • Acknowledge and help student members navigate special circumstances that might disrupt their abilities to perform their duties. Have students share officer positions so they can help each other based on circumstances.
    • Ensure that members receive due process in circumstances of discipline or removal from office. Removal from office should be used on rare occasions when other disciplinary actions are ineffective.
      • As part of due process, removed or dismissed members have a right to appeal the decisions to their school principals.
  • Eligibility

    All students and faculty faced interruption when schools moved to remote learning and a significant number of districts directed their schools not to assign traditional grades for the latter part of the year and cancel most student activities. The decision impacted students in terms of scholarship and their engagement in a variety of events, both of which could affect their plans to seek student council office or other member position on the council.

    How can councils address member selections and elections under unique conditions that may impact learning environments this year? There are several things to keep in mind.

    • Councils that include a scholastic component for eligibility may need to adjust how grades or GPA are calculated for council membership purposes.
      1. Consider temporarily lowering the required cumulative GPA in recognition of the increased difficulty students are facing.
      2. Determine an eligibility equivalent from the nontraditional grades given in the spring.
      3. Allow students willing to make the commitment to attend meetings, etc., to serve as student council representatives.
  • Elections

    In addition to adapting your eligibility requirements, schools operating on distance learning and limited or modified in-person instructional models should utilize electronic forms in the election process to ensure maximum student involvement in the process.

    1. Ensure an accessible and equitable process for interested students to become candidates and run campaigns.
    2. Consider adding a short essay or open-ended-questions component to your candidate packet that helps students establish their candidate platform and express why they are running for office.
    3. Leverage the opportunities of web-based programs and mediums to establish a procedure for candidates to create and submit campaign materials for online viewing after being reviewed and approved by the adviser and/or election committee.
  • Officer Installations

    In lieu of in-person installment ceremonies, councils can hold virtual ceremonies. An excellent resource for installations can be found on the NatStuCo website in the Adviser Resource Center under Elections and Selections, with tools that include:

    • Ceremony planning suggestions
    • Sample outline of a ceremony
    • Suggested songs and music titles
    • Sample oaths of office
  • Service—Individual Service Hours and Group Service Participation

    Councils have flexibility with regard to individual service and group service activities. They can:

    • Extend the deadlines
    • Reduce the number of hours/activities required for this year
    • Revisit and expand the number and kinds of acceptable service activities

    We recommend visiting the following sites for resources to help your council find or adapt service activities to be run in ways that meet social distancing and other local guidelines.

    In addition to these resources, councils can consider hosting the following virtual group service activities:

    • Tutoring (in person and online)
    • Letter-writing or card-writing campaigns to nursing homes, first responders, or elementary students
    • Video messages of hope or support
    • Virtual spirit rallies and drive-up charity drives that meet both the needs of the community and the well-being guidelines

    Consider allowing members to present new solutions for providing service, and use this opportunity to redefine what constitutes true service in their community. This can serve as a topic for the first council meeting of the year. We encourage councils to change the mindset about service in learning environments and consider any efforts and activities that support the NatStuCo tenet on service—helping to build a climate of caring and tolerance through volunteerism and service to others.

    Finally, councils may want to consider waiving or modifying service hour requirements, as long as this option applies to all student members. For this, we recommend a council vote and adviser approval. Waiving or modifying service requirements may be necessary when a high percentage of council members cannot access or participate in service opportunities in a safe and meaningful way.

  • Meetings

    Council meetings may be held virtually, while recognizing that some students may have limited access to their home computers. In those or similar cases:

    • Accommodations can be made for those students, such as allowing them to check in with an adviser or a council officer. Doing so would count toward their meeting attendance.
    • Record meetings and post them for members to view, and confirm viewing with the adviser.
    • Consider using a message board or GroupMe type of communication to allow students to check in instead of attending live meetings. Count check-ins toward meeting attendance requirements.
    • Host meetings on school-approved platforms or secure any needed permissions to use others.
    • For virtual meeting invitations and reminders, include “reply requested” as a way to confirm it was received by the members.
    • Have the executive officers host office hours to connect with members unable to attend the meeting.
  • Member Expenses

    If your council members typically incur expenses for council activities or apparel, consider how funds will be collected this year if there is no in-person instruction at the time they are normally collected. If your council expenses have decreased in light of financial hardships facing some families, consider:

    • Reducing member costs and waving any disciplinary action for nonpayment.
    • Providing optional funding support opportunities to parents to help support the council.
    • Seeking out a sponsor or philanthropic support to cover council member expenses.
    • Reaching out to parents who may be interested in contributing support to other students/families who may be experiencing hardships due to coronavirus or other family challenges. The purpose of these funds would be to help cover the cost of council apparel, council activities, or graduation insignia.
  • Closing Thoughts

    Clearly communicate all changes with parents and students in writing. Be sure to keep your administration up to date with all changes related to your council, and secure principal approval for any modifications related to elections or those that significantly veer from current practices and policies. With any changes to your election process or service requirements, be sure to document these temporary changes in your local school bylaws and communicate all changes to all students and faculty in writing.

    The national office would like to extend a message of thanks for all that you do for your students, whether they are members of NatStuCo or not. We understand that this year may bring some challenges, and we are confident that we can navigate them together.

  • Contact

    Our Customer Care department is available to assist you with any concerns that arise this year.

    Phone: (800-253-7746, option 4)

    Email: [email protected]