Because of the COVID-19 stay-at-home directives — which are still ongoing in many schools — eSignatures must become a normal part of school and educational operations.
As schools gear up to open between this fall and next year, administrators need to make sure that students stay healthy and safe. Increased classroom sanitation, no-contact infrared thermometers, e-learning modules, and social distancing in classrooms are all good to have. But the very basic act of signing and exchanging physical documents, something we tend to consider harmless, can increase the risk of cross-contamination.
The silver lining is that with eSignatures apps such as SignEasy, it’s surprisingly simple to eliminate the use of wet signatures and hard copies of documents and embrace a paperless reality. eSignatures don’t just speed up paperwork; in the COVID-19 era, they can eliminate paperwork as a potential vector for the virus. For administrators and teachers, that’s a massive benefit to schools and your students and can give parents a bit of comfort in a stressful time.
Globally, schools and colleges are quickly adopting such affordable SaaS platforms to continue hygienically providing the education that our youth deserve.
We’ll walk you through how schools are deploying eSignature solutions, how these solutions benefit education at every level, and how you can get the most out of your own digital signature strategy.
As legally binding as putting pen to paper, eSignatures are literal lifesavers in a COVID-19 world, simply by reducing interaction with communal surfaces (pens, paper, printers, etc.) and face-to-face appointments. It allows for your institution to function as usual, even in these unusual times.
Because of the health crisis, Avon Grove Charter School (Chester County, Pennsylvania) was unable to get in-person confirmations from its existing teacher-base regarding their availability for future sessions. SignEasy enabled the school to secure e-acknowledgments from staff in a quick and effective manner.
The Covina-Valley Unified School District, in California, needed to get IEP (Individualized Education Program) documents approved by guardians. Because of social distancing, they were unable to get in-person signatures, so the district adopted SignEasy’s eSignature solution, not only for the social distancing benefits but also because IEPs operate under strict confidentiality guidelines, which SignEasy’s secure platform was able to provide.
Shortly after the district adopted SignEasy, the IEP documents were sent digitally to parents. The parents remotely signed the documents and sent them back, averting a problem that could have delayed student education and even affected how the school district received IEP funding.
The Special Education and/or support services department of any school is under strict guidelines to not only provide accommodations for students that need it but also keep information confidential.
This amounts to a huge stack of paperwork that eSignatures (and online contracts) can alleviate. Documents such as IEPs, ISPs (Individual Service Plans), and medical-based service plans all require meetings of parents and several school staff—specifically a site administrator, a regular ed teacher, a special ed teacher, a school psychologist, a counselor, and sometimes the students themselves.
The plan put forth by the school is not considered official unless all of the parties mentioned above are represented in the meeting and have signed to verify attendance. These life-changing, collaborative meetings can still take place via Zoom or other video chat, and the necessary documents can be signed with an eSignature to prove attendance and parent approval.
With more schools offering remote options, students with special needs will require more help. That means increased testing, diagnosis, and service plans, for which educators and parents need to meet, discuss, and verify. The verification, for which multiple eSignatures would be required, makes this agreement binding and allows everyone to be on the same page for proceeding.
eSignature solutions for higher education do more than just prevent person-to-person contact—they also help create a more organized and productive workflow for all school documentation.
As schools offer online platforms and the COVID-19 climate continues to be dynamic, administrators are faced with the daunting task of trying to provide transparency to students, parents, and staff about how the school year will move forward. All of the normal school registration documents will still apply, and many updates will need to be made to the handbook, especially in the areas of attendance and discipline.
Updates normally come with a signature of acknowledgment—from the student (in the case of higher education) or a student and a parent (in elementary, middle, and high school). That’s a lot of paperwork that could easily be digitized and signed on a mobile phone.
Attendance tracking in an online model is tricky at best, and stakes are still high. Most public schools receive funding based on verified student attendance. If a student misses school too many times (which can be as simple as missing a single Zoom meeting in an online model), the teacher often must send a document home to verify the attendance problem with the parent and create an attendance contract moving forward. An eSignature here can remove the need to send a physical contract home.
Student handbooks and school agreements could change on the fly. Student handbooks will need to be updated to clarify what counts as an excused absence, what counts as a tardy, and how much school a student can miss before disciplinary action is taken. eSignatures allow parents to seamlessly read and confirm updates.
Discipline in a time of online schooling provides new and unique challenges as well. While certain disciplinary acts are no longer an issue, like fighting or vandalism, there are certainly new ways for students to act out in an online platform. Remote learning offers more opportunities for discipline issues. “Zoom bombing,” for example, is when a student gets the Zoom code for a class they are not enrolled in and proceeds to be disruptive on the Zoom call, either vocally or with chat or screen-sharing. Teachers and parents who are less tech-savvy will find this difficult to prevent unless they make themselves aware of security settings. This is an example of yet another update that needs to be made to the student handbook.
These lapses in discipline, should they become severe (or ongoing), will require meetings and disciplinary contracts, which come with—you guessed it—more signatures. Students, parents, and administrators must be aligned on expectations, rules, and consequences in this challenging time; eSignatures can help.
Another unique factor, at a time when there are so many added costs to reopening school, is that online signature tools help save thousands of dollars by cutting back on paper consumption, courier costs, and the like.
Using an eSignature solution for higher education means higher staff productivity:
Schools don’t have to waste time juggling forms or chasing signatures. Permission slips, media consent forms, health consent forms, special education needs—these can all be handled with an eSignature on an online contract. Better still, these online contracts can be set up to automatically send reminders when a parent or student hasn’t signed a form yet.
Counselors can manage all of their students’ college paperwork and applications. Consider the benefits of digital signatures and online contracts for counselors who are working with students, possibly remotely, to get into colleges. Eligibility changes, grades change, and students change their minds. eSignatures speed up an exceedingly slow process, and the online contracts themselves can be stored in a single shared, encrypted folder rather than cluttering a desk or file cabinet.
eSignatures allow official documents to remain digital copies forever. This is great news for school clerical staff because they don’t have to be the only “keepers of the keys” when it comes to a student’s official documents. If something needs to be signed/approved in order to be considered official, and that’s done digitally, additional staff can have access.
Online contracts help non-tech-savvy parents to become more comfortable with digital platforms. If students are attending school virtually, but parents still don’t use tech very often, requiring eSignature will make parents more likely to engage and be able to help the student.
And the best part is, there is virtually no learning curve or setup required. Your staff members can frictionlessly view and sign documents while accessing their email or LMS, because SignEasy embeds into major email and productivity tools. That means they don’t ever have to open the SignEasy app separately to sign official documents.
When schools reopen, you can be sure that there will be an onslaught of documents, from building inspection reports and letters of recommendation to educator licensure audits, employee leave requests, and so on, pending approval from various signees. Whether you are opening up the school fully or partially, a 100% contactless signing intervention is invaluable.
“It takes 30 seconds to one minute to complete the process, and there is an electronic record instead of a piece of paper that can get lost while being passed around,” says Stewart Jesse, director of Glass City Academy, who uses SignEasy every day to process staff leave requests.
SignEasy has made platform upgrades completely free for schools and universities to help them get started for the upcoming academic year. What does that mean for your institute? With this complimentary SignEasy membership, you can:
Educational institutes of note, such as Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell University, have long been using SignEasy to optimize document workflow—even before the pandemic struck.
Join them in the eSignature revolution, and make the hassle of physically signing a document a thing of the past. If you are an educational institution, simply get in touch with [email protected] to receive a special discount.