The spread of the new coronavirus and the widespread emergency school closures that followed have canceled, or at least stalled, the best-laid plans of school parent groups. PTOs and PTAs across the country have responded by doing what they do best: communicating with school parents, creating a sense of community, and supporting school families as they adapt to a new normal.

Getting Food and Other Goods to Families

In hard-hit Washington state, the Lafayette Elementary PTA in Seattle placed plastic bins of books, games, and food in front of the school for families to take what they need.

In Keene, N.H., the Symonds Elementary School PTA held a food drive that collected 64 boxes of food to be delivered to students who receive free or reduced-price meals at school.

The Sandy Springs (Ga.) Charter Middle School PTO came up with a different solution. The PTO asked a restaurant to save space in its parking lot where people could donate or pick up food for their families.

Some school parent groups, unable to hold events they had budgeted for, have donated the funds to organizations in their community. The Trailwood Elementary PTA in Overland Park, Kan., gave the money planned for its spring events to a fund at the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation that provides emergency assistance to families.

Supporting Health Care Workers

Several school parent groups have shown appreciation to health care workers. The Lions Park PTO in Mount Prospect, Ill., budgeted funds to buy meals at local restaurants for first responders and health care workers. Other PTOs and PTAs have made personal protective equipment (PPE) and donated it to first responders or hospitals. 

In Ohio, the Maple Intermediate School PTA in North Olmsted is leading a community effort to make plastic face shields using 3D printers. The PTA's Makers for Medics committee is raising money for 3D printing supplies and asking people with their own 3D printers to make the face shields and donate them to the cause. The PTA made a video showing how to put the face shield components together.

Another Cleveland-area group, the Solon (Ohio) PTA, provided supplies to people willing to sew fabric face masks for donation to University Hospitals. Families at Solon schools made 1,000 face masks in just a week's time.

Moving Toward Online Connection

With schools closed for weeks or more because of the coronavirus, some parent groups are focusing on helping school communities feel more connected. The Roy B. Kelley PTA in Lockport, N.Y., is posting videos of staff members reading stories aloud on its website and YouTube channel. The school’s music teacher has shared singalong songs for students, too. On Mondays, the PTA posts photos of student art and craft projects for Maker Monday. Fridays feature photos of students from the school for Friend Fridays.

In New Jersey, the districtwide Spotswood PTA celebrated a Virtual School Spirit Week to bring school communities together. It worked just like a regular spirit week, with a pajama day and crazy sock day, among others. Families could email photos of participating students to the PTA, post them on the PTA’s Facebook page, or post them on Instagram with a given hashtag. Each day’s winner received a prize from the mayor.

The Spotswood PTA also posted this morale-boosting message to its Facebook page: "We might not be there with you but we will always be there for you. We love and miss you."

A group of parents in Dartmouth, Mass., held a weeklong event that gave students a daily creative challenge. Challenges included building a fort, inventing something to solve a problem, and making something out of recycled materials or items found in nature. Parents emailed photos of their kids with their creations to be posted.

Rethinking and Adapting Fundraisers

The show must go on…online. Emergency school closings put a pause on what’s described as the longest-running PTA fundraiser in the country. The San Carlos (Calif.) Chickens’ Ball is an annual variety show that’s been running since 1940. The city’s PTAs work together to produce the show that started in 1939. The city’s PTAs work together to produce the show, which raises money for arts and cultural programs in the city’s public schools. As cases of the new coronavirus increased in California, the San Carlos PTAs announced it would livestream the fundraiser and ask supporters to make donations online. Later, the livestream was canceled because it would have involved more than 50 people gathering in one place. The group posted video of a previous year’s Chicken Ball on YouTube, and said it hopes to stage the 2020 production at a future date.