School is back in session, and in the crisis communications field that means a new year of school-centric crises. Expect some of the following in the coming months:
- Viral videos of students fighting, bullying and ganging up on defenseless kids;
- In-classroom videos of teachers saying or doing improper things;
- Reports of drug overdoses or illicit transactions taking place on school property;
- Questionable class assignments or test questions from teachers that show up on social media or in the news media;
- Teachers or students arrested or investigated for questionable activities outside the classroom;
- Reports of improper relationships between some teachers and students;
- Outrage from parents in the media and at school board meetings over decisions, policies or events;
- And tragically, more active shooter situations.
Why Are School Districts Unprepared?
These are just some of the more common scenarios many school districts and private schools will face in the course of this academic year. So, if I can predict these situations, why are so many school districts seemingly caught flat-footed when they happen?
Partly because of politics, partly because of the level of crisis communications resources they have at their disposal, but mostly due to the competency of leadership, school boards and the communications staffers in the organization.
Let’s face it, only a few of the larger school districts have the budgets and the frequency-of-crisis to warrant the hiring of well-rounded communications professionals who are capable of managing a crisis. Even then, their hands are often tied by the revolving door of school board members, and administrators with their own priorities and agendas.
Usually, the average school district hires someone to manage the district’s newsletters, special events, promotions, website maintenance and social media accounts. So, when a crisis happens, their only preparation – if that – is a workshop they once attended on an active shooter situation, or some other event.
As a result, we have a media landscape from September through June littered with school-related disasters that could have been avoided, or at least more effectively mitigated.
So, what’s my solution?
If you’re in school district administration or on a school board, it’s pretty simple. Hire someone with crisis experience. It can and will happen to your district. Then after you hire that person, listen to them long before a crisis actually occurs. If that’s all you do, your chances of having to withstand an embarrassing nationwide stain on your district will be greatly reduced.
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Tim is the author of the book called “The Essential Crisis Communications Plan: A Crisis Management Process that Fits Your Culture.” He is founder of O’Brien Communications and has provided crisis communications and issues management support to clients from Fortune 100 firms and national nonprofits, to emerging start-ups. Tim has handled hundreds of crises, large and small over decades, working with some of the most iconic brands in the world along the way.