Education Policy Observations and Advice:
Does HR’s “Duty of Care” for Relocating Families During Crises Extend to Schooling?
Part Five in a Series by Timothy Dwyer, President, Bennett International
Though it’s just a little over two decades old, the 21st century has already seen a remarkable number of international crises. Medical crises like SARS, Ebola, and COVID, natural disasters like the tsunamis of 2004 and 2011, social-political upheaval such as the Arab Spring, and, of course, wars in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and too many other places. For human resources professionals, these events have often posed a direct challenge to the well-being of employees located in or near these locations, frequently requiring emergency evacuations or short-notice relocations.
After addressing the most immediate needs of these employees — food, shelter, and physical safety — HR then has to confront a wide range of “second-tier” questions ranging from compensation and benefits issues to taxation and immigration and more.
For employees with school-age children, education jumps right up to the top of this list. How much responsibility does an employer have to help parents navigate a tumultuous schooling environment and support the education of their employees’ children in these situations? Simply allowing school-age children to while away their days in a hotel room is not an option. What are the policy options available, and how does an employer go about deciding on an approach that is both supportive and reasonable?
While each situation is unique, there are certain basic steps that can help an employer figure out how to approach this complex topic:
Understand the scope of the challenge: In order to know what solutions are viable, the employer first needs to know just who might be in need of help. Undertaking a census of evacuated employees and their families is not simply a matter of counting heads. Where exactly did they live prior to the evacuation, and what schools were the children attending? What language was spoken? What curriculum were the children studying? Do any of the children have learning differences that might require attention? Do the families have access to school records, either hard copy or online?
Establish employment categories: Who are these evacuees, from an employment point of view? Under normal circumstances, in any given work location, an organization might have several different types of employees: expatriates on full assignment packages, employees of other nationalities working on a host-local package, and regular domestic employees are among the three most common types. There might also be a wide range in terms of the levels of employees, from entry-level workers to C-suite executives. All these different types of employees may find themselves thrown together when evacuated. Should you apply the same policy approach to all of them, or differentiate based on the categories above?
Assess the available schooling options: What kind of education is available at the evacuation destination? Are local state/public schools able to accommodate evacuated children on a short-term or medium-term basis? Do they have the capacity to integrate and support those children? Is there space at international or private schools? Is the home-country curriculum online for distance learning? What about other online schools or homeschooling? Depending upon the answers to questions 1 & 2 above, finding the right spot to place these displaced children doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge.
Create a budget: In an emergency situation, one likes to think that money is no object, but the fact is that every organization has a limit as to what it can do. Evacuations during crises can be very expensive. Fee-paying schools are expensive. Arranging for tutoring or host-location language lessons can be expensive. Securing expert guidance to help sort through all the obstacles and options comes at a cost, too. It’s crucial to understand what financial resources are available, and how they can be allocated among the different employee groups.
Think about precedent and fairness: In times of crisis, decisions are often made quickly and sometimes without sufficient deliberation. Especially when the evacuees represent a cross-section of employee types, levels, and nationalities, HR has to treat them—and especially their children–in a fair and equitable manner. If an organization is going to be providing schooling help to one group of children and denying it to another, it had better make sure that there is a solid and defensible rationale for doing so.
Behind each one of these steps is a lot of research, calculations, consultations, and decisions.
As we are seeing with the current refugees from Ukraine, children are particularly vulnerable to disruptions in their daily routines and social networks. Continuity in education and the schooling experience can play a vital role in helping families weather the disruption of evacuation. The basic steps above are a good place to start.
Timothy Dwyer, President
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Over the years, Bennett International Education Consultancy has worked with hundreds of corporations across the globe, many of them Fortune 500 companies, providing domestic and international school advisement & placement services - preschool through university - to the dependents of relocating employees. In addition to education placement, our team provides customized consulting for corporations with a range of education issues: education policy writing & benchmarking, tuition studies, group move advisement & planning, and remote education solutions.