We’ve heard from lots of leaders who have questions about how to do parent group work while schools are closed or restrictions on public gatherings are in place. Some of the most-asked questions have been:

Q: Can we hold our election online?

Yes, you can—there’s a good chance you have to do it this way if you want to hold it this school year. We actually just published an article on online elections for PTOs and PTAs that will walk you through the ins and outs. (Alternatively, some groups have reported choosing to wait until the fall to hold their election.)

Q: How do we change our bylaws if right now proxy voting isn’t allowed?

Because extraordinary events are interfering with the election process, you can put provisions in place to adjust it.

If your bylaws say no proxy voting, you need to amend your bylaws by sending an email outlining your proposed changes in advance, and then schedule a Facebook Live or other virtual conference meeting to vote on the changes.

Ultimately, if your group decides to allow online voting, you should add a brief policy statement to your bylaws.

Refer to our article on online voting for a more detailed explanation of the process.

Q: How do we do virtual meetings?

Chances are you or some of your board members are already using Zoom or other virtual conferencing platforms for meetings or online get-togethers with friends and loved ones. If you’re new to it, try these tips from our Facebook group on having smooth and successful videoconferences:

  • Have an agenda and screen-share it so you can stay on track

  • Ask everyone to mute themselves to cut down on background noise

  • Ask everyone to use a specific view mode according to your needs: gallery view if you want everyone to see everyone, speaker view if it’s more of a lecture

  • With some recent security concerns, make sure your meeting is password-protected so only invited participants can get in

  • For larger meetings, ask people to write in the comments with a keyword of the topic or to write “comment” or “question,” and ask a moderator to call on people to share their idea

Q: Can we save any of our spring activities, like do them virtually?

It really depends on what you had planned. If you were counting on a fun run, that’s probably not going to work from a distance. But you might be able to adjust it to a walkathon where kids can count their steps walking around their home or neighborhoods.

Live or silent auctions can be moved online. In Seattle, the Lafayette Elementary PTA moved its auction online and changed the name from Auction Night to Anytime Auction.

Book-based events like readathons have an easy place in a virtual world. And there’s also Drop Everything and Read Day on April 12—round up some teachers to record themselves reading to students and post the recordings. Alternatively, you could encourage parents to record their kids reading their favorite books to their teacher. (And you can do this any day it works—it doesn't have to be on that exact day.)

Many groups are still holding their dances virtually! Try these tips from leaders who’ve held teleconferenced dances:

  • Set a time limit; 15 to 30 minutes is a good length of time

  • Decide if your dance will be schoolwide or by grade level

  • Work out the details about how to play music in advance

  • Have the host mute attendees to limit background noise

  • Take song requests ahead of time

  • Have a DJ who will talk to the kids in between songs so it’s not just a playlist

Q: We’re sad about Teacher Appreciation Week 2020, especially now when teachers have so much more being asked of them. What kinds of things are groups doing for their teachers?

We're seeing a lot of schools doing photo and video collages for their teachers, like this one posted by Leslie Scott from Stuart-Burns Elementary in Burns, Tenn.

We're loving the ideas we've seen shared in our PTO and PTA Leaders & Volunteers Facebook group. One team secretly placed thank-you yard signs at the homes of 120 instructors. Another group posted a Teacher Appreciation theme week schedule where each day students created a piece of writing or artwork, or did an act of service to thank their teachers and school staff. And one group purchased dinner from a local restaurant for all staff members and their families, which they picked up curbside on a designated night.

Also check our new article with ideas for showing teachers some love from a distance.

Q: Some of our members seem to be feeling really isolated. How can we help?

Again, tap into the power of video chat. You don’t have to set them up only for official business. It’s really important to stay in touch and try to be there for each other. And for any of your members who haven’t, have them join our PTO and PTA Leaders & Volunteers Facebook group. It’s a community of more than 36,000 leaders and volunteers.

Q: Our financial docs are in the school, which is locked, and we need them to be able to do an audit. Can we wait to do it?

Unless your bylaws say otherwise, it’s OK to postpone the audit. If your group is expecting an audit, the leader should send out an email explaining the situation and state that as soon as it’s possible to get into the building, she’ll pick up where she left off. (If the bylaws state a particular timeline for the audit, then the bylaws need to be amended. See above for the Q&A on amending your bylaws during an extraordinary time.)

Q: What do we do about money we’ve already received from parents for dances, field trips, etc.? Is there a requirement about issuing refunds, or can we request to reschedule and hold the money over?

It’s probably best for your books to refund the money during the school year if possible—not to mention, since so many people have lost their jobs (or have reduced hours), a group doesn’t want to be in the position of retaining anyone’s money, regardless of the amount. If it’s not possible to get refunds out right away, the treasurer or committee chair should notify everyone. And in any case, communicate to your membership to let them know the situation.

Q: With social distancing requirements, how do we get two signatures on checks? Would you recommend changing the check signing guidelines so that a leader could issue refunds to vendors for cancelled events? Or should we call the vendor and work out a different timeline for refunds?

Many banks don’t require two signatures, although we do recommend it—but admittedly it’s a tricky one to enforce right now. One workaround is one person could sign the check and drop it in the mailbox of the second signer. It would probably be better in these times to try to work with the vendor to see if there is any flexibility or an option to reschedule the event or service to the next school year—most likely they’d love to know that your group still plans to use them in the 2020-21 school year.