Issue 6 | Volume 4 | 2015
On July 28, 2017 at 3:55 PM, Shelton Academy received a call from a local reporter that they had been contacted by a current Shelton parent about a data breach of confidential information. As it turned out, a well-meaning staff member had shared the entire student body’s social security information with all of the families while sending one parent their own child’s electronic records.
The school had already discovered the mistake and staff were busily working to mend fences and put in controls to prevent future events. In short, when the reporter called and spoke with the front office person (Mrs. McGonagall), it was no surprise. When questioned about the issue, the always friendly receptionist acknowledged that the school had indeed sent out all of the social security numbers and was working towards a resolution. She told the reporter that the Registrar, Mr. Lipshitz, was a nice man who was learning how to operate the system and did not mean to release all of the information. When the reporter said thank you and hung up, Mrs. McGonagall was relieved. Because it was a Friday afternoon and all seemed well, she checked out for the day.
At no point that afternoon, did Mrs. McGonagall find time to tell the Head of School or the Communications Director. When an article appeared on-line a few hours later, the Head of School received the first of a few messages from trustees asking why such an important issue was not shared with the Board and why the front office person provided information to a reporter.
The Head of School, Dr. Johnson, explained to his Board Chair, that he was not aware that this was the type of issue the Board needed to know about and despite having just hired a wonderful Communications Director, Miss Lane, they assumed that everyone at school knew what to do if a reporter called the school with probing questions. Dr. Johnson never thought there needed to be a formal policy in regards to this topic. Most importantly, he explained to his Board Chair that Mrs. McGonagall, the receptionist, loved the school deeply and would never do anything to harm Shelton Academy.
Dr. Johnson promised the Board at the next meeting that he and the team would develop a policy about talking to the media that would include instructions that only the members of the senior administrative team and Trustees could talk to the media.
FOCUS TOPIC - CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS
SPOTLIGHT TOPIC - STUDENT TRAVEL
What "hot button" issues relate to safety and security?
What changes in policy could have been made to address these issues?
What could have been prevented by better communication and planning?
Many of you have asked for some content relating to summer programs and preparation. We are excited to going to share this video message and the resource materials below with you.
The scenarios in this case study are based on real-life situations that have occurred in multiple schools over time. They are representative of the types of challenging situations that schools routinely face. Any similarity to actual schools or individuals of the same or similar names is purely coincidental.
Bus Driver Training (Big Back Pack)
Facility Usage Policy Template (Big Back Pack)
First Aid CPR Training (American Red Cross)
Orienting Your Camp Nurse: Tips for Success (ACA)
Risk & Compliance: Wage and Hour Laws Don’t Go on Summer Vacation (NBOA)
Safety & Security: Summer Safety Checklist (NBOA)
Safety at Summer Camp (Darkness to Light)
Staff Training and Preparation - American Camp Association (ACA)
The Top Four Challenges Organizations Face When Screening Volunteers and Staff (Praesidium)
1. Does your school have a currently edited crisis management handbook?
2. How confident are you in your communication systems?
3. When a crisis happens, what challenges does your organization typically face?
4. Who is on your crisis management team?
5. Where is your crisis command center?
6. How often does the crisis management team gather per year to plan and conduct training?
7. What ongoing information does the board need to have about the crisis?
8. How can the school avoid a potential crisis by listening to families and employees?
9. What are the plans for business continuity when a crisis hits? .
10. Where do you go if you had to evacuate your entire campus?
Brian Kaplan is a highly regarded marketing and communications specialist for schools, leading educational organizations and arts-based non-profits. Mr. Kaplan’s strategies have been shown to influence consumers, and with more than 20 years of strategic marketing experience, he recognizeshow to define an organization’s distinctions (branding) through the use of marketing and communications, social media, and community programs. Visit Brian's website, https://brainkap.com/, to learn more about his firm - BrainKap.
Working with the media is a challenging and daunting task when faced with a crisis. It has taken me many years and several mistakes to realize this. I began practicing crisis management as a result. Below are some suggestions on how to be best prepared to handle a problem, but particularly how to communicate with the media, in advance and during a crisis. Additionally, this article will cover the art of communicating with both your student body and families on the importance of NOT speaking with the media before or during a crisis.
Most problems can be avoided or at least lessened and I generally pose the same question to myself each time: why isn’t the director of communications holding sessions with parents about the importance of not leaking or discussing problems with the media. I read and article last year where the lower school assistant spoke to a reporter on the record. This is not acceptable. But unless all school employees, parents and students are told to not speak with the media, well in advance, how can they be expected to adhere to this rule? They cannot. One of the roles of a director of communications is anticipating and preparing for problems in advance. Below are four additional points to consider:
Point #1: Internal Communications. One aspect of preparing the school for a problem or crisis is working with your school community on serving its best interests, which includes not leaking stories to the media. Frustrated parents need to be instructed to address and resolve grievances with the head of school or a trusted administrator. Parents can understandably be upset because of bullying, social media and offensive language. They deserve the respect of understanding how an issue will be addressed. My suggestion is to offer a specific day where you will discuss a follow-up plan. Once determined, ensure that there is follow-up with them. Do not give parents a reason to gripe and gossip in the hallways and parking lots or even worse with a journalist or social media influencer. Set the guidelines early and reinforce them during the school year.
Point 2: Media Relations. Journalists look for relationships with school administrators, as a way to impress their editor by having a source on the inside. It’s also beneficial for the administration’s communications person to have this relationship. Give a journalist a reason to seek out the proper point person first by developing a relationship (get the journalist’s cell phone number and add it to your phone so it’s at your fingertips). Don’t
Each month, in our Week 4 Deep Dive, we turn to a real-life expert to share some best practices and wisdom with you.
allow the school to play from behind; control the narrative and the messaging in advance and show the power. By doing so, a media outlet can fear litigation and decide against pursuing a negative article.
Further, as a communications professional, look to identify if the story is going to get out (it has been popping up on social media or bubbling up in the parking lot). If so, do not hope it will just go away. It will not. Discuss it with your administration colleagues and possibly a few core members of the board. Periodically, taking a proactive approach and addressing it with the media before they hear it from a parent, using “an unnamed source” is the more rationale approach. Consider getting ahead of the story. Inform the journalist of the proactive measures that are being taken. Do not trickle out bad news. However, it is critical to understand that stories rarely go away on their own.
Point #3: Put It In Writing. Develop a few written responses for when a problem or crisis occurs. While it is not easy to do, because you are imagining a crisis that has not yet happened, it is essential to write out some “boilerplate” (generic) statements because when a problem or crisis occurs, thinking with a level-head is much more difficult, especially since there will be considerable demands on the administration. Statements to the media need to be vetted and approved by the administration, core group of trustees, and the school’s attorney. This process will take weeks and require several stakeholders weighing in.
Below are a few examples:
One or two press releases, letters to the community and alumni, families who are affected, letters to the faculty and staff, major donors (prepare a list in advance), and a few social media posts and responses. Storyboard your ideas, just as you would when preparing an article. Everyone is a stakeholder and each feels important in their own right. If they are neglected or if they hear this news from someone else, their egos may be affected, which could have ramifications. Think about everybody, especially the ones on the front lines, like teachers and receptionists.
Point #4: Determine a spokesperson. While the obvious answer is the head of school, who on the administration is prepared to speak if the HOS is incapacitated or unavailable? What if the chair of the board of trustees is traveling? Having an org chart for spokesperson is critical as is media training (the media frequently looks to misquote and trip you up, so be prepared). They have an agenda and that is to develop a story that will sell. Insecurity or tripping up can provide them with the necessary ammunition. Also, keep a journalist at arms-length; do not be naïve and think that because you know them and have socialized that you cannot be betrayed. Hold your cards closely and do not trust the “between us” or “off-the-record” ploy.
Being prepared and practiced as a communications professional and as a school team is paramount. Problems can either be contained and generally extinguished or they can develop into a crisis, which is more difficult to control. Take the time to prepare for dealing with the media in advance and control the problem, before it becomes a crisis.
May 2019 Topic Announced - Armed Intruders & Open Campuses
This coming month we will be focusing on the challenging topics of Armed Intruders and Open Campuses. The Intro Video and Self-Assessment Survey should be open on Tuesday, April 30th. Join us on May 9th for an exciting Webinar with Behaviorial Science and SWAT Team Leader, Paul Larosa, of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.