We are at the end of winter here in the low country, as March escorts in early spring. I hope you are experiencing the same and that this season is also welcoming mask-optional policies and much lower pandemic numbers than we saw this winter.
I want to congratulate all of you as we prepare to cross the threshold of the second anniversary of the COVID pandemic on March 11th. In the last two years you have managed to bring school online, hybrid, variations of in-person including outside, in gyms, without cafeterias, and almost every other permutation we could imagine. You have had outbreaks, substitute teacher shortages, and any number of other disruptions as people have been in and out of quarantine. Many communities have also experienced great losses through the last two years, losses that were often hard to observe and recognize given the limiting circumstances. Our thoughts are with you as your community continues to grapple with those losses.
Now, many of our thoughts are turning to the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia. When there is unrest in key areas of the world, independent schools can be impacted in important ways, including aspects fundamental to our operations such as enrollment and advancement. In addition, our communities may be impacted as foreign students, teachers, or families with direct connections to the area anxiously absorb regular updates. Finally, many schools use these examples to talk with their students about world events so that they understand the context and history behind them.
Inflation and the Market
Schools must be aware of the heightened volatility in the market as well as the likelihood for continued inflation exacerbated by the conflict. These two issues have the potential to impact the school’s investments, ongoing fundraising, parents’ ability to afford tuition, and the overall cost of running a school. Now is the time to be in touch with the school’s financial advisors to understand the school’s vulnerability to the market and to track the costs of ongoing operations.
Schools should be aware that Russia is currently being sanctioned to an unprecedented degree. Over the last week sanctions have increased to include severe limits on interactions with international transactions and banking, sizable global businesses like BP and Shell have pulled out of the country, sports teams have been banned from competing, and companies like Apple and others have stopped selling their goods. The EU has worked in concert to impose sanctions that were unforeseen and that much more important for the proximity and interdependence with Russia. Given the scale and unprecedented nature, the markets have been responding somewhat unpredictably, a trend that seems likely to continue.
The sanctions as well as the invasion of Ukraine will tax commodities that will drive further inflation. Ukraine is a somewhat significant trade partner with the U.S., and a substantial trade partner with some European countries. With its top exports being corn, seed oils, iron, and wheat, its contributions to the bottom-line items that households and businesses rely on can have an impact on pricing if they are interrupted, potentially further impacting inflation. Further, as sanctions have grown and individual countries, like Germany, have taken additional steps, there is concern that Russia will limit export of gas and oil in retaliation. Oil prices have jumped given that Russian provides 12% of the world’s oil supply.
Sanctions and the ongoing conflict may affect international student and teacher visas and travel, as well as cause anxiety and concern. Schools should identify current community members who may be impacted by the news as well as those prospective families and staff. Now is a good time to reach out to them to ensure that they have what they need from the school in terms of support and communication. Currently there is lobbying happening to provide protected status for Ukrainians currently in the United States.
Many schools have international trips coming up in March or April, as well as later in the spring. It will be wise to keep an eye on how the developing situation in Ukraine will affect travel. Russia has closed its airspace to much travel and the airspace over Ukraine is also limited. These closures and those that may come will impact flight routes.
Schools that have upcoming trips to countries neighboring Ukraine will want to ensure that their travel will not be disrupted either by limitations in air travel or the potential for Ukrainians seeking asylum in other countries needing the hotels or other lodging. There is also some speculation that this conflict will not stay in Ukraine, and schools should bear this in mind as the situation continues to develop.
Russia has great cyber attack capabilities, and some of those may be brought to bear in various ways. These attacks can be disruptive to day-to-day life when they attack the infrastructure of a country, but they can also impact business operations. Now is the time to ensure that your school’s cyber security is up to date.
Students often have questions as current events unfold, particularly in classes that are studying the part of the world in the spotlight. For those looking for resources on talking with students about this conflict, these resources from the Global Education Benchmarking Group (GEBG), this resource from EdWeek and these from San Diego County Office of Education may be useful. This collection includes information to help support student well-being as they cope with current events on television and social media.
My hopes and prayers are that my next letter for this monthly bulletin finds us further in the clear of pandemic news as well as this developing news from Ukraine.
In the meantime, if it is helpful to you as you continue to lead your schools, I invite you to join me in Mindful March. This calendar provides a daily prompt for going about your day a bit more in the present.
As always, if there is anything that our team here at SAIS can do for you and your school, know that we are here for you.