Communications is key to
School leaders must be prepared to communicate quickly to
parents and the media in the event of a violent incident or
other emergency at a school, attendees at a Saturday workshop
“Thanks to ‘Generation Text,’ rumors of violence and
word of an actual incident can spread in seconds and minutes,
not hours,” says Kenneth S. Trump, president of National School
Safety and Security Services. “The ‘crisis after the crisis’—the
onslaught of parents and the media—typically is as challenging,
if not more so, than the actual incident or rumored threat
In the past, school officials have taken a “downplay, deny,
deflect, and defend” posture, he says. “Progressive school
leaders today recognize they need to get out front with
communications about school safety far before an incident ever
In preparing for a major school emergency, Trump urged school
crisis teams and district leaders to:
- Be prepared for a 24 hour/seven-day-a-week news cycle.
- Have protocols in place for establishing a “joint
information center” where the school’s spokesperson works
side-by-side with police and other designated spokespersons
to create and communicate consistent messages to the
school-community about an unfolding incident.
- Train administrators, board members, and other key
crisis communicators how to effectively interact with the
During and immediately after a major school safety incident,
he advises school leaders to:
- Communicate messages that are accurate, timely, and
communicated with redundancy through multiple channels, such
as the media, mass parent notification systems, letters to
students and staff, via the district’s web site, faculty
meetings, school wide PA announcements or homeroom
debriefings for students, and related mechanisms.
- Keep messages focused on what parents want to know about
the safety of their children.
Trump said districts should avoid comments like, “Schools are
the safest place in the community,” and “This is an isolated
incident.” These sound bites are seen as an effort to protect
the district’s image and show no concern or compassion for
victims and their families or for school safety in general.
- Following a high-profile incident, parents what to know
two things: What steps did the school district have in place
to prevent an incident of crime or violence? And how well
prepared was the district to manage those incidents which
could not be prevented?
School leaders need to answer these questions with specific
examples, not in generalities, Trump said.
Trump recommended schools hold a facilitated community
meeting after major incidents to help in the recovery process.
These meetings give parents an opportunity to ask questions and
voice concerns; provide school and safety specialists an
opportunity to put what happened into context; and serve as part
of the healing process for the school community.
Reproduced with permission from School Board News.
Copyright © 2009, National School Boards Association. Opinions
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