Communication and Crisis Response

See attached.

Communication and Crisis Response


Your response to crisis has the ability to diffuse or ignite. While it is difficult to anticipate
every possible crisis, it is possible to prepare and to learn from the response of others.


In this assignment you will have the opportunity to examine and analyze crisis
response, related to stakeholder communication.

1. Research, analyze and present an educational institution’s or program’s
response to a crisis that occurred in the last five years.

2. Develop a presentation analyzing an institution’s or program’s response to a

○ Provide a summary of the crisis and the response from the
institution or program.

○ How was information related to this crisis communicated? (e.g.
news conference, town hall, written communication, etc.)

○ Based on what you have learned about crisis response, was this
handled appropriately? Why or why not?

○ Anything else that could be done?
○ Cite evidence from the reading or other scholarly sources, to

support your analysis.

Required Reading Materials

Kowalski, Theodore (2011). Public Relations for Schools (5th Edition). Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Chapter 3: Legal & Ethical Aspects

Chapter 9: Community Relations

Chapter 10: Media Relations

Chapter 13: Responding to a Crisis

Warner, Carolyn (2009). Promoting Your School: Going Beyond PR. (3rd Edition).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Chapter 5: Media Relations

Chapter 11: Crisis Management

WCNC Staff (2018). CMS Superintendent: We Don’t Search Every Bag That Comes
Into School. Retrieved from

Links to an external site.

Sanchez, A. (2018). Greendale Students Raise Their Voices, Saying High School Has
Tense Racial Climate. Retrieved from

Links to an external site.

Recommended (Optional) Reading Materials
Gaydos, R. & Miles, F. (2018). Wisconsin High School Cheerleaders Received Awards
for Biggest Breasts, Butt at Banquet. Retrieved from
Links to an external site.

Warner, C. (2009). Promoting Your School (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc. (US).

Media Relations

“Reporters . . . a principal’s best friends? Strange but true. Film at 10.”

Even the most articulate educational leader, with the most carefully developed and implemented
community assessment and communication strategies, may be painfully uncomfortable when
dealing with the media. To educators, media coverage too often calls to mind memories of bad
news reported or having been misquoted, misinterpreted, or accused of hiding the truth. To a
certain degree, these perceptions stem from a general misconception of the media’s role in
covering education. It is easier to place blame than to face the fact that education advocates
have not been proactive enough in getting their message out.

Educators have a lot to brag about, but they are usually too busy doing their jobs to
spend time broadcasting their successes. But in this age of instant news, if you want to attract
communitywide support and involvement, you can no longer afford to be modest about your
school’s accomplishments. The purpose of this chapter is to cast the idea net as widely as
possible so that no matter where you are on the road of media relations, there will be something
here that makes the trip a little quicker and the path a little smoother.

To begin, take a few minutes and conduct a simple analysis of one month’s newspaper
coverage of your school or district. Make a copy of everything that was printed: meeting
announcements, letters to the editor, photos, news, feature stories—everything. Now rate each
one as positive, negative, or neutral in content. Count the number in each category and
compare this to the overall number of stories printed.

If you want to do a better job of managing the negative news, then you and your team
must assume more responsibility for initiating positive stories. And you must assist the media in
obtaining more complete information about those stories that are less than positive.
The dictionary describes news as “recent events and happenings, especially those that are
unusual or notable.” The three key words here are recent, unusual, and notable. An Arbor Day
ceremony featuring the superintendent and governing board president turning the first shovel of
dirt may be recent, but it is neither unusual nor notable. On the other hand, the fifth-grade field
trip to the burned area of a state park to plant trees purchased with money earned from a
recycling project is unusual and notable enough that it just might get sent out by a wire service.
Remember, you are competing for news space and air-time with every other school and agency
in town, as well as nationwide. If you want coverage, your story must stand out. News is the
creation of the reporter, not the source. If a reporter doesn’t see an event as newsworthy and
doesn’t report on it, it is, for all practical purposes, “non-news.” However, if the reporter’s
attention is attracted to something unusual, whether good or bad by district standards, you
better believe it will become news. As an educational leader, you want the public to know when
students in your school are excited about learning and are succeeding in the classroom. But is it
news? From a reporter’s perspective, the school is just doing its job—and that is not news. In
this context, think about what is being reported about education of late. People constantly hear
that public education is in need of radical reform, that it is wasteful and ineffective, that students
are not learning basic skills, that schools need to be run more like businesses, and so forth. In
other words, it is when schools are not doing their job that education becomes newsworthy.

Once you realize that it is the media’s job to inform the community about what is happening,
good or bad, and that the community expects to be so informed, then you can develop
strategies to get school news covered in a positive manner.

According to Margo Mateas, president of Public Relations Training Company, near San Jose,
California (, managers need to include PR staff in decisions.
Practitioners must manage the truth, not bury it. To avoid being blindsided by the press or
mishandling the message, PR staff need to be involved in problem solving and crisis
communications from the beginning, not just told what to do after everyone else has met in a
closed-door session. PR practitioners are the ones actually answering questions from
journalists. They need to be equipped with information, messaging, and support to do their jobs.
Working together on messaging will also keep everyone on the same page.

Ultimately, media relations is about relationships. Relationships have to be nurtured and
developed with trust, with both sides keeping their word and maintaining integrity. When you’re
able to develop these kinds of relationships with reporters and PR people, the mutual benefit is
overwhelming. Not only do you find suitable working relationships, but you may actually
discover real friends that will last much longer than the current crisis you’re facing. Contact and
cooperation are the keys to building a successful relationship with news reporters. Respect the
reporter’s task of covering the story as thoroughly, accurately, responsibly, and objectively as
possible. Remember that the reporter answers to an editor or news director. Let’s hope that the
reporter, in turn, respects your task of educating children with as few disruptions as possible and
remembers that you answer to a superintendent, a board, and the public as well. When
reporters and educators deal honestly, openly, and fairly with each other, the news reported will
reflect that.

A reporter is a person with a job to do, just like you. Most reporters are trying
conscientiously to do the best job they can, just like you. It is fascinating to hear educational
leaders talk about “cutting the reporters out of the story” or making access to information difficult
for them. Then, these same leaders wonder why they get such lousy coverage. You don’t
appreciate someone who makes your job or life more difficult. Why should they?

There is an old journalism saying: “Never argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel
and paper by the ton.” To that admonition, add, “or who controls 3 hours of prime-time TV every
night.” Much of the negative media coverage generated about local schools can be traced back
to some action or remark made by somebody in a school district who forgot these basic truths.

The most effective way of getting positive news coverage is to cooperate with the media.
Treat them courteously and provide information about problems. Don’t withhold it in the
mistaken belief that they might not find out or will drop the subject and just go away. If you
accommodate them on the negative stories, they will usually accommodate you when you want
the positive stories run as well.

Principal John Baldwin of Shreveport, Louisiana, offers some excellent advice on how to
deal with reporters: “I have cultivated personal relationships with key reporters by being
completely candid with them, even when it was painful to do so. This has paid rich dividends
when I needed them. I also try to be sensitive to the media’s interest in innovation and

“Establishing up-front relationships with the media, be it television, print, or radio can be
especially challenging with current media practices,” explained Superintendent Dr. Paul Kinder
of Blue Spring, Missouri. “Community organizations such as school districts have become the
target of media hype to raise ratings for local news. News reporting has taken over more hours
of channel programming than ever. Honesty is still the best and most effective way to deal with
the media. The sensationalism of current television media often overshadows the details in
events that would portray them fairly. In addition, being responsive and available also works to
our advantage. Our public relations office has a mobile messenger, and this includes a cell
phone that is on 24/7. Avoiding the press is seldom beneficial. When calls are not returned,
reporters often just appear in person and they may believe we have something to hide. Finally,
our responsibility is first and foremost to our students and their families. We can utilize the
media to get a message out, but we must also work hard to protect our students and families
from undue, harsh criticism.”

Tips for Working With Reporters

● Get to know the reporters in your community! Get to know the reporters in your
community! Meet with them face-to-face. Invite them into your schools, to community
events. This bears repeating a third time: Get to know the reporters in your community!
Pay attention to bylines in the newspapers and familiarize yourself with the writing style
of the reporters who cover education. Most large daily papers have a writer assigned to
the education beat. On smaller dailies, this reporter may have other coverage duties in
addition to education. Watch the local television news shows and note the kinds of
stories individual reporters are assigned to cover. When the reporter known for handling
investigative assignments calls you, you’ll know it’s not for information about the annual
school carnival—unless someone has accused a committee member of embezzling
funds. Be knowledgeable about your state’s open records laws and your school district’s
policies on the release of information. Determine up front what is public information
about students and employees and what is not. Make sure your staff members know
what information is restricted.

● Find out the filing deadlines for newspapers and television and radio stations in your
community. You will get better coverage if you respect their time restrictions and plan to
release your information accordingly.

● Your availability is a critical factor in getting good coverage. Respond to calls from
reporters as promptly as possible. Reporters have relatively inflexible deadlines. If you
cannot respond right away and no one else can handle the call, have your secretary
phone to find out the reporter’s deadline and let him or her know the approximate time
you will be available. If you miss that deadline, you will miss the opportunity to get out
your side of the story. You may also appear to be trying to hide something—never a
good impression to leave with a reporter.

● Treat all reporters equally. Do not play favorites or allow one reporter to always scoop
the others. However, if a reporter calls you and initiates a story, don’t call all the others
and share that reporter’s story idea.

● Treat reporters as the professionals they are. Most go through the same amount of
education and training as educators. Like educators, reporters work long hours and
deserve respect.

● Treat reporters as you would any community member inquiring about your school. Take
a personal interest in them; find out if they have children and where their children attend

● Don’t tell a reporter how to do his or her job. Don’t be like the administrator who handed
a reporter a list of the questions he could ask the students, thus setting a negative tone
for what should have been a positive story. You do not have the right to read or see a
story before it is printed or broadcast. Once the story is underway, you have to trust the
reporter’s judgment and let him or her know that you are available to answer questions.

● Tell the truth. Understandably, you may want to give the school’s or the district’s
perspective on the actions or events in question, but never lie. A false statement
invariably comes to light, and the person who uttered it has damaged his or her personal
credibility as well as that of the institution. Lying to a reporter will always come back to
haunt you!

● Be prepared to be disappointed occasionally. The most interesting and photo-attractive
event in school history will go uncovered, even when you’ve been told it will be covered,
if a story of greater dramatic impact or news interest breaks at the same time. Be a good
sport and let the reporter or editor know you understand.

● Remember that reporters don’t write headlines. You may have thought you did a very
positive interview, yet the headline was, or seemed to you to be, negative. Headlines are
written to grab the casual reader’s attention, so they must be short and “punchy.” Don’t
blame the reporter.

● Reporters also don’t write editorials. If there is a major story or incident involving your
school or district that prompts an editorial, the editorial may have been based on the
contents of a reporter’s story, but, even in small newspapers, it would have been written
by someone else.

● Avoid “no comment” replies. If you can’t respond, explain why. Say, “I can’t respond to
that because it’s a confidential personnel matter,” or, “That matter is under investigation,
and I’m not free to respond at this time,” or whatever the truth is.

● Cultivate a working relationship with reporters during good times. Go out of your way to
cooperate and provide information so that a mutual trust level is established. Then when
a crisis hits, they will likely be willing to work with you to present a fair story. Dartmouth
Middle School in Massachusetts has an ace in the hole: The editor of the local weekly is
a former student who goes out of the way to cooperate with the school in getting the
stories right. School officials have established a level of trust with that editor, and the
school community is more likely to see factual, correct information printed in that local
paper versus hearsay or rumors.

● Learn media terminology such as press versus media, deadline, cutline, byline, off the
record, and not for attribution.

● Don’t ever say anything “off the record”; even if a reporter reassures you that your
comments are off the record, respond as if what you say is being taped, because
ultimately, you have to take responsibility for everything you say. If you are not prepared

to see your words in print or hear them on radio or television, don’t say them.
Remember, once you have spoken, you can never take back those words.

● Invite reporters to speak to student journalism classes and clubs and with the faculty or
PTA/PTO about the news business. Give them a chance to talk about themselves and to
share their experiences. Most reporters are intensely curious and are “people persons”
who enjoy talking about what they do.

● Drop a note or pick up the phone once in a while to thank a reporter for a positive story
about your school or district just to touch base.

● Keep a small, unobtrusive tape recorder at your side and record all interviews. Not only
does this help you review and improve your media technique, it is also your insurance
policy if you are seriously misquoted or if there is a substantial error in the resulting story.
If you are talking to a newspaper reporter face-to-face, say, “I’m going to tape this if you
don’t mind.” Many newspaper reporters now record interviews, in addition to using their
traditional spiral notepads.

● Above all, be honest, fair, and courteous. In this relationship, as in all others, the Golden
Rule really does apply.

There are several ways to get your story out, but for most educational leaders, the easiest way
is to call a reporter directly or prepare a news release. If you have already cultivated a
relationship based on mutual trust, you won’t have a problem getting through to the reporter or
having him or her return your call.

If you plan to call a reporter with your story, be sure you call well before critical
deadlines. If you are hoping for a photo, you will probably have to let the reporter know about
the event at least 2 days in advance so a photographer can be scheduled. It is best to use the
phone for unplanned stories or emergencies and then back up your call by sending a fax or
e-mail with the same information. By handing the reporter a prepared news release when he or
she arrives, you can be sure names are spelled correctly and other critical information is
accurate. Reporters are busy people and don’t always have time to take notes over the phone.

A fax machine and e-mail access are incredibly useful tools, especially if the story is
breaking the same day. Along with a phone call, fax, or e-mail, provide complete information for
the reporter and allow him or her to move swiftly on the story.

Another excellent tool, particularly in small communities with weekly newspapers, is the
“tip sheet,” described later in this chapter. This contains a schedule of upcoming events and is
sent out on a regular basis to all the local media. Of course, a follow-up phone call is also a
good idea.

Principal Nick Miller of Buffalo High School in Minnesota is a strong believer in
aggressive publicity. His school averages about 10 articles in every issue of the local paper, and
he encourages the editors to emphasize more than sports. The local Aurora, Ohio, weekly
newspaper has a mailbox in Aurora High School’s mail room. A reporter stops by to pick up
information on a regular basis. Many of the articles printed come from the school’s monthly

News conferences at the school-building level should be called only in very special
circumstances or in extreme emergencies—and only if you are very confident in your media

skills. A news conference is generally used in situations where you need to get important
information to all the media at once. However, due to advanced technology, there are often
faster and more reliable ways to communicate.

The news release has long been a communications standard for getting information to all media
sources in a timely fashion. But a vague, poorly written, uninteresting news release that fails to
catch the reporter’s eye most likely will end up in the “round file” next to the reporter’s desk.

News releases should be used judiciously and written in a manner that simplifies
follow-up for the reporter. Keep in mind that reporters are inundated with stacks of news
releases every day from people like you competing for space or time. If yours does not stand
out from the others, it is unlikely to be considered for that day’s news mix.

Remember, a good news release deals with news. If something is not news, and if it is
not of general interest to the reading or listening public at large, it does not belong in a news
release. Avoid editorializing in your release. An opinion about the event (such as the
administrator’s comments in the examples provided by Paradise Valley Unified School District in
Phoenix that appear at the end of this chapter) should be given in the form of a quotation by a
cited source.

Another key to an effective news release is to make sure that it is timely. A release about
a week-old event is history, not news. If you know the name of the reporter who covers
education news, send the release to that person’s attention. Otherwise, send it to the attention
of the newspaper editor or radio/television news editor. When possible, send out your release 5
days to a week in advance. Then, call to check if the reporter received it.

Another effective way to disseminate the news from your school is to have all news
releases handled by a particular staff member who is given time to work on this. Principal Gary
Phillips at Fayette County High School in Georgia assigns this role to an English teacher. Not
only does the teacher notify the media of upcoming events and awards received by students
and teachers, but the teacher also welcomes members of the media to the school and attempts
to smooth the way for public relations campaigns. Finally, don’t be disappointed if all your news
releases aren’t used—neither are anybody else’s. There is strong competition for news
coverage, and education is not the only topic in which the public, or the media, is interested.

Content of a News Release
A good news release contains the following information:

● A date line, a contact line, and a for release line. Instructions on how to write these are
included in the next section, “Guidelines for Preparing the News Release.”

● An interesting lead sentence and paragraph. The questions the reporter will be thinking
are, “Why should I care about this? What’s the point?” State clearly up front what makes
the story unique.

● Answers to the questions who, what, where, when, why, and how.
● If the story deals with a current hot topic, consider whether you need to include some

background information. Cover the facts, but avoid editorializing—that is why news
organizations have editors on staff.

● Reporters are always interested in money-related items and the number of people that
the event/program/incident impacts.

● If there are several activities associated with an event, include a brief program outline
and note the best times for photo opportunities.

● Check and double-check that your information is accurate, that names are spelled
correctly, and that addresses and times are correct. Most errors in news stories can be
traced back to the source.

● A sample news release is inserted at chapter’s end. Also included is the Media Contact
Form from the Washington Elementary School District in Phoenix, Arizona, used to keep
school and district administrators informed when another member of the staff has media
contact. This contact is often unplanned, but it is a good idea for staff to inform you and
for you to keep a record of it.

Guidelines for Preparing the News Release

● The key is to present information in a clear, concise, easy-to-read, professional format.
● Always use the same format for your releases—the same heading, paragraph

indentations, and margins so that your style will look professional and be easily
recognizable. Simplify punctuation and adhere to the same spelling and capitalization
style. Get a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook and use it as a guide.

● The date line states the date the news release is issued by the school.
● The contact line gives the name and telephone number of a contact person who can

provide additional information about the event (usually whoever generates the release)
and, if appropriate, the names and phone numbers of others who are knowledgeable
about the story and who are willing to be interviewed.

● The for release line announces the date you wish the news media (whether newspaper,
radio, or television) to print or broadcast the information. In the example at chapter’s
end, the for release date states “immediate” because the event has just occurred and
there is no need or reason to hold back the announcement. Immediate means the media
is free to use the release upon receiving it. Some news items may need to be sent to the
media prior to the date you want the item announced—for instance, the announcement
of a special award or the appointment of a new principal. In this case, the for release line
should read something like “Hold until Thursday, Jan. 24.”

● If at all possible, news releases should be kept to one page. If the story is of such
importance or demands such detail that more than one page is needed, put “—More—”
at the bottom of the first page, indicating that the item continues to another page. At the
top of the second page, put “Page Two,” the date, and the title line of your release,
followed by “(Continued).” Drop down two or three line spaces and continue with your

One way to avoid writing a longer news release is to put “Editor Note” at the end of the
release indicating that more information is attached. As in the case of the sample release, the
editor can lengthen the story with the names of the students and other details about the event,
including a picture if space permits.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can trick the editors into printing more of your
story than they wish by writing a longer news release. If your release is so long that there is not
enough space for it, it might not get used at all. Or if the release has to be edited to fit the space
available, key points might end up being left out.

The “tip sheet” is a weekly or biweekly schedule of events and activities involving the school or
district schools, such as “Around the XY District.” It advises reporters and editors of a variety of
possible story-generating items and allows them to pick and choose those they wish to cover
depending on interest, space, and deadlines. The tip sheet can also be sent to the
superintendent and governing board, and employee and parent organizations, and posted in the
faculty/staff lounge to apprise everyone of upcoming events. A sample News Tip Form used by
Washington School District is shown at the end of this chapter. The tip sheet could be sent by
e-mail directly to your beat reporters, or posted on your Web sites, or e-mailed to all of your key
When you create a tip sheet, be sure to

● use a different masthead for the tip sheet than the one you use for news releases so that
a reporter can easily distinguish between the two.

● list events and activities in calendar order. Each item is preceded by its day of the week,
date, and time.

● write a brief description about the event or activity (using one or two lines), including
location. Also include the name and phone number of a contact person for that event.

● make a note that the event is a good photo opportunity, if that is the case.
● list holiday and classroom activities that make good holiday features, such as

kindergartners dressed as Pilgrims and Native Americans for a Thanksgiving feast,
students operating mock voting booths on Election Day, Abe Lincoln visiting school on
Presidents’ Day, and students reciting appropriate speeches on Martin Luther King Jr.
Day or on Cinco de Mayo. This makes great filler material that reporters know is always
popular with the public.

Television and radio stations are required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to
run a certain number of public service spots each week. These brief announcements are free of
charge and are often overlooked as a way to get information to the public about education. You
can use PSAs to highlight American Education Week or to announce a special event such as a
community concert at your school or an annual PTA fundraiser. (A typical public service
announcement is printed at the end of the chapter.)

● If your district or school has a special letterhead for issuing news releases, PSAs, and so
on, use it. If not, regular district or school letterhead is perfectly acceptable. If you are
using regular letterhead, be sure to put “Public Service Announcement” across the top of
the page.

● The date line is for the date the PSA is sent out by the school.
● The contact person line should give the name of the person who can provide additional

information about the event or who is authorized to speak for the district or school in
commenting about the event, not simply the person in charge. A telephone number
should always be included. Obviously, the person listed as the contact should be made
aware in advance and be prepared to answer inquiries.

● The topic line should give the station editor a clear indication of the subject of the PSA.
● The date of event line is self-explanatory.
● The requested air dates means the date(s) you wish the radio or television station to

broadcast your PSA. In the example, the dates indicate approximately a 2 ½-week
period prior to the event. This tells the station that it has some latitude in airing the PSA.
Obviously, you hope the station will air it more than once, but this may not happen. The
greater the lead time and the longer the period of requested airdates you list, the better
your chances of getting your PSA aired. Remember, the station must first record your
PSA, then schedule a time to run it. A last-minute PSA is not likely to make it past the
first person who reads it.

● Think of a PSA as a free commercial. But remember, because it is free, the station has
no obligation to run your particular PSA. Unless the station’s market is very small, it will
likely have many more requests for PSA’s than it has airtime to give away.

● The length of your PSA is very important. It must be 10, 30, or 60 seconds in length
when read by an announcer. You want to get your story told in the shortest workable
amount of time. Keep it clear and simple. Don’t write a 60-second PSA for something
that could be covered in 30 seconds.

● PSA copy should be very clear and precise about what you want someone to know or
do. Write the announcement the way you would say it. Read the copy aloud and
clearly—more than once—to make sure it is understandable and no longer than the
length requested. Remember that what may make sense on paper does not always
come across clearly when read aloud.

An announcer at the station is either going to record your PSA for later broadcast or read
it over the air. Sometimes on television, PSA copy may be aired in written form, in a community
bulletin board format, to be read by the viewer. This is especially likely in areas served by cable
television companies. In any case, write the PSA exactly as it should be read and do not exceed
the prescribed length. If it has to be edited by the station, it may not be used at all.

Familiarize yourself with the various newspapers that serve your community. Many major dailies
now publish zone editions that concentrate on local community news. Different reporters will
cover these zone editions, so make sure you know who they are. This is where education
stories of general local interest will usually be printed. If your paper publishes by zones, find out

the deadline for your particular zone, as well as the deadline for the main edition. You also need
to find out the paper’s policy for printing stories in both the zone and the main edition. Most
papers will run your story only once and will not look kindly on two reporters covering the same
story—and neither will the reporters.

Learn the deadlines for special sections of the paper such as the community calendar.
These sections usually have longer lead times because they are printed weekly, but they
provide an excellent resource for notifying the community about upcoming school events.

If your paper has a regular education column, volunteer to write a guest editorial. Call the
editor and ask what kind of education stories would be of interest to the paper and then submit
feature story ideas on a regular basis. Although the majority of your ideas may not be used, the
chances are that one or two will make an impression and find their way into print. Administrators
have utilized this idea to their advantage at Sauk Rapids High School in Minnesota, and
Meadowbrook Middle School in Poway, California. In Sauk Rapids, the administrative team
writes a column for the two local newspapers. Many smaller newspapers also welcome articles
written by students. If such a program doesn’t exist, you may want to introduce it as a way to
highlight student work and to generate publicity for your school or district at the same time.

Although large daily papers will generally assign a photographer if a photo is warranted,
most weekly papers will accept good-quality black-and-white photos for publication. Find out
their policies for accepting photographs and the standards they require. You might even get your
photo printed with your own byline.

Competition for television airtime is very intense in a large market that contains more than one
school district. A half-hour local news segment contains on the average only 11 minutes of
actual news time, and this is split between local and state news and local tie-ins to national
news. Your story must have strong community interest to get aired. If you are located in a small
community where the school is the hub of activity for residents, you stand a better chance of
getting regular, positive coverage of school programs.
There are several keys to using television effectively:

● Remember that television is a visual medium and is event oriented. When proposing
stories, always suggest a visual angle. Don’t waste time with nonvisual stories or boring
ones (proclamations, presentations, and the like). Only one school’s Arbor Day
ceremony or food drive will be covered, so be first or have a different twist. All across the
country, TV news stations report that research shows their viewers do want to see more
positive news coverage, so opportunities are there if you present unique story ideas.

● Check out the lead time each station requires. Provide complete information about the
story, including time, duration, specific location, directions, and contact person. Use the
phone with discretion, as TV assignment-desk staff are busy people.

● Target daytime story coverage. Most television stations these days are on tight budgets
and employ limited personnel. As a result, evening events are more difficult for them to
cover and crews are generally sent to cover only the more dramatic stories, such as
crisis situations or crime scenes. Exceptions to this are major sporting events at the high
school level.

● If the station sends a cameraperson to your event without a reporter, be sure to give the
cameraperson a copy of a news release containing the details of the event. This ensures
your story will run with complete and accurate information. Be nice to the camera
operator. He or she can make you look really good—or really dumb!

● Unlike newspapers, television stations generally don’t assign a specific reporter to cover
education. You need to know who the news directors and assignment editors are at the
local stations, because they are the ones you contact and the ones who decide which
stories get covered. Find out if there are special types of education/school stories in
which they are interested.

● Take advantage of the station’s community calendar and public service announcement
options. Talk with the station’s public service director about PSAs on issues of concern to
the community, such as parental involvement in education, drug abuse, and dropout
prevention. Use the community calendar for upcoming events that might not warrant
special coverage (open house, kindergarten registrations). Community calendars are
prevalent on local cable channels.

● Invite on-air personalities to be honorary spokespersons or guest celebrities for a
community-oriented project or to speak to classes about their jobs (for example, invite
the weatherperson to a science class). Often, such persons will bring a camera crew
with them to record their station’s community involvement, an important part of a
station’s advertising and promotional package.

Interviews: When It Is Your Turn on Camera
Television can be intimidating and uncomfortable when the lights are turned on you. Prior to
your interview, anticipate questions and review your possible responses. Decide in advance the
most important points you want to get across and try to focus on them throughout the interview.
The key is to appear poised and competent. Often, the reporter will ask you the questions in an
informal format before the cameras start to roll. Use your responses at that time to prepare for
the real thing. One word of caution: remember that the camera is always “on”—you could be
recorded without realizing it.

● Use concise answers no longer than 20 or 30 seconds. Avoid jargon.
● State the most important information first, and emphasize those points. Because only

short segments of the interview will be used, use a headline approach: “The most critical
issue here is . . .”

● Rephrase long or loaded queries into questions you can or want to answer. Give positive

● Think before you speak. Unless you are on a live show, you can take as much time as
you need because the tape will be edited before airing.

● If you wish to drop the subject, build in a cutoff with your answer. (For example, say that
is all the information you have to give at this time, bridge back to your original message,
and thank the reporter.)

● Discuss only those activities and policies within your area of responsibility.
● If you don’t know the answer, say so. If you can’t respond, explain why and bridge into

an area you want to discuss.

● Be consistent. Give the same answers to repeated questions. Repetition helps make
your point.

● Avoid answering “what-if” questions. Stick to the facts.
● Don’t be guilty of a quick retort that you may regret later. Avoid sarcasm or attempts at

humorous references. Be straightforward and professional.
● Avoid distracting mannerisms. Don’t rock in your chair, pull at jewelry, say “er” or “uh,” or

cross your arms. Keep your face open and pleasant, make eye contact with the reporter,
and use appropriate, but restrained, gestures.

● Stay relaxed, smiling, and positive.

The key to effective radio coverage is to get your message aired at the right time. Because radio
stations broadcast 24 hours a day and include news coverage almost hourly, stories have a very
limited life span. This also means that radio deadlines are tighter than those of television and
newspapers. Millard South High School in Omaha, Nebraska, has found that, for immediate
purposes, radio is the most effective media resource. Radio also can be especially effective in
small communities with few schools or school districts in the broadcast area.

Use the same techniques with radio reporters that you would use with television or
newspaper folks. Just remember, you will hear the results a lot faster, so be prepared to deal
with issues and questions raised by the radio broadcast right away.

No one will see your face when you are on the radio, so be sure to speak clearly and
distinctly. Stop talking after you have made your point or answered the question. Even if you are
doing a radio interview by telephone, speak as if the reporter were in the room; it helps to make
eye contact with something or someone while you are speaking.

There is a specialized radio format for just about every kind of listener, from classical to
country music to the increasingly popular talk radio. Some markets are now experimenting with
“kids’ radio,” which could provide an excellent media opportunity for schools. Listen to the
various stations in your area and note those that carry community-related information. Try
pitching your story ideas to them first.

Here are some ways that you can use radio to tell your story:

● Announce emergencies concerning school openings, closings, and evacuations.
● Compile public service announcements about special events, programs, or issues of

concern to the community.
● List community calendar events.
● Submit a topic and volunteer to be interviewed for an in-depth, half-hour public service

program. (Stations are required to do a certain number of these.)
● Sell the station on the idea of a monthly “Kids’ Show” featuring students.
● Volunteer to be on a call-in talk show dealing with an educational subject.
● Negotiate your own weekly or monthly radio program, if you live in a small or rural

● Offer to present a guest editorial on the air.

● Don’t forget to invite radio reporters to special school events. If you have a guest
speaker or a choral event, the reporter may be able to record portions of the program to
use on the air.

● Let the news director know that you are available to respond to educational issues in
your community.

As an educational leader, you may find yourself in a position of having to talk to a reporter when
you are least prepared. When that happens, don’t panic and don’t answer immediately. Take
time to stop and think first. If you are still uncomfortable with the question, say, “I don’t have that
information right now, but I’ll check to see if I can get it for you.”
Following are some remarks prepared by Judi Willis, APR, Paradise Valley Unified District
(Arizona) Community Relations Director, that you might use as starting points for your
comments when talking to the media:

● I’m not at liberty to discuss that topic at this time because it is a/an . . . (executive
session matter, personnel matter, parent/student privacy issue, and so on), but I’ll be
happy to supply the information when it can be made public.

● I don’t have all the information on this subject. I recommend you contact the . . .
(superintendent, board president, community relations director). If he or she can’t help
you, please give me a call back.

● We will follow our governing board’s policies and take appropriate action after we have
concluded our investigation.

● Because this is a personnel matter, I’m not at liberty to talk about every aspect of the

After a crisis, Willis suggests the following:

● We don’t allow reporters on the campus to film or talk to our students about this
situation. We have trained professionals talking with the students who are having
problems. We believe it is in the best interests of our students to resume their normal
routine as soon as possible.

● Although we feel badly about the students’ education being interrupted, we won’t tolerate
this type of behavior (exhibited by a few students, which interrupts the education of their
classmates) in our schools.

● We share the community’s concern over this, and will review our procedures to see how
we can keep it from happening again.

Bill of Rights for the Radio/Television Interviewee

In interviews of a spontaneous nature, you have the right

● to know who is interviewing you, and who he or she represents.

● to have total agreement on the ground rules by both parties, no matter how hastily

● to be treated courteously. The questions can be tough, but the reporter’s demeanor
should not be abusive.

● to have off-the-record comments, if previously stated, honored. (As a rule, never say
anything off the record unless you know and trust the reporter completely.)

● to not be physically threatened or impaired by lights held too close or microphones
shoved in your face.

● to break off the interview after a reasonable amount of time, but only after important
questions have been answered.

In prearranged interviews, you have the right

● to all of the previously mentioned items.
● to know the general content, subject, and thrust of the interview, so you have time to

research the appropriate information.
● to know approximately how long the interview will last.
● to know if there are other guests appearing with you on a talk or panel show, and what

their roles will be.
● to have a public relations or other school representative present.
● to make your own audio- or videotape of the interview or to be able to obtain a complete

tape from the radio/TV station.
● to make sure that no material is recorded by the reporter on audio- or videotape unless

you are told you are being recorded. (The preinterview discussion, conversation between
commercials, or after-show chitchat cannot be used on the air unless you approve.)

● to be allowed to answer without constant interruptions (assuming your answers are brief
and to the point).

● to ignore editorial comments or pejorative asides by reporters or panelists.
● to have an accurate on-air introduction that will put the interview in the proper

● to have the basic intent and flavor of your answers come across accurately in the edited

version of the film or tape.
● to have time to get some of your points across in the interview, and not be expected only

to answer the reporter’s questions.

When Answering Questions, Do . . .

● be relaxed, confident, and honest.
● maintain a neutral attitude.
● use pitch and rate changes for vocal variety.
● build in a cutoff with your answer if you wish to drop the subject.
● discuss only those activities and policies within the purview of your area of responsibility.
● admit you don’t know an answer if that’s the case. You can promise to get back with the

answer; just be sure to deliver when you promise information.

● tape the interview yourself if the situation permits.
● use visual aids if you absolutely have to, but make sure they are simple, readable,

uncluttered, and relevant to the subject.
● give positive answers.
● practice beforehand!

Don’t . . .

● use jargon, acronyms, or technical terms.
● use “hesitation devices” such as “er” and “uh.”
● be curt, even when answering the dumbest question.
● answer more than one question at a time.
● restate the question.
● begin with gratuitous phrases such as, “I’m glad you asked me that.”
● give a “no comment” response—if you are unsure of the answer or can’t discuss it, say

● get into a verbal fencing match if it is classified information; just indicate that it is

classified and move on.
● volunteer information unless it supports a positive point you want to make.
● be defensive.
● ever assume anything is off the record—there is no such thing unless you are absolutely

certain the reporter will honor the agreement.
● let anyone put words in your mouth. Agree only if the facts and figures are the truth.
● lie. Answer as honestly and completely as you can—your school and district’s

reputations rest on their spokespersons’ veracity.

Crisis Management

There can’t be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.
—Henry Kissinger

Society has always considered its schools to be safe havens for children, places where they can
be free to learn in a protected environment. Unfortunately, the reality in today’s world is that
schools are no longer sacrosanct. They are no longer islands of safety within a community in
turmoil, no longer immune from violence and the desperate acts of society. What a sad
commentary it is that to be designated a “safe school” today, the school must have metal
detectors, surveillance cameras, security guards, perimeter fences, “screamer boxes,” and/or
bar-coded photo IDs.

An educator must be prepared on a moment’s notice to deal with a crisis situation
involving the school. Most districts define a crisis as any situation that threatens the safety and
well-being of the school, students, or staff, either physically or emotionally. Crises may range
from natural disasters to bomb threats, from school violence to a gas leak, but all crises have
one thing in common: They will likely involve the assistance of health or law enforcement
agencies and, as a result, will attract the attention of the media. Thus, there is the need to be
able to communicate with your constituencies in a timely and appropriate manner.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools produced the
January 2007 Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities,
which offers this view of how a crisis could be interpreted: “Crises range in scope and intensity
from incidents that directly or indirectly affect a single student to ones that impact the entire
community.” A crisis situation can happen before, during, or after school, and on or off school
campuses. The definition of a crisis varies with the unique needs, resources and assets of a
school and community. Staff and students may be severely affected by an incident in another
city or state. The events at Columbine High School, and those of September 11, 2001, for
example, left the entire nation feeling vulnerable.

Judy Wall, Communications Director for Federal Way (Washington) School
District, explains the challenge this way:
A crisis can impact a single building or the entire district depending on the nature
of the crisis. The most important consideration when dealing with a crisis is the
health, safety, and welfare of the students and staff—and prompt notification of
parents. You have a greater chance of managing a crisis situation if you have a
district-level plan, and an individual building plan that is based on the district plan.
Building-level crises can take many different forms. Some typical examples

● Accident or injury on campus
● Transportation accident
● Arrests on campus
● Fire
● Bomb threat
● Individual medical emergency
● Weapons incident
● Suicide
● Child napping
● Assault
● Gang violence
● Racial or civic violence
● Chemical spill
● Power outage
● Food poisoning
● Vandalism
● Gas leak
● Robbery

● Drug or alcohol incident or overdose
● Sexual molestation (on or off campus)
● Armed intruder
● Hostage situation
● Natural disaster (earthquake, flood, hurricane)
● Shooting
● Unfounded rumor
● Infectious disease outbreak

The first order of business in any crisis is to take control of the situation and protect the
welfare of students and staff. The next step is to communicate the situation to parents and the
community. A well-executed crisis plan will make the job of communicating easier and could
even contribute to a swifter, smoother resolution of the crisis.

Credibility is your most valuable communication asset in a crisis. You must be prepared
to deal openly and honestly with the community and the media to explain the situation and the
steps being taken to remedy it. By being above board with reporters and providing them with as
many facts as possible, you add to your credibility and get your side of the story out. This is
where a solid, day-to-day communication effort with the media pays off.

The choices schools face in crisis management are (a) to be caught without a plan, in
which case you are forced to communicate in a defensive mode, or (b) to be prepared in
advance by having a crisis plan in place that allows you to communicate proactively.

The most successful crisis plans are those that are developed through the participation of the
people who will actually be involved in carrying them out. Although crisis plans contain the same
basic elements, each plan will vary slightly due to the nature of the crisis, the unique needs of
the school site, the makeup of the staff, and the resources available in the local community. The
stronger your team’s ownership of the plan, the more effective it will be in meeting the specific
needs of your school.

Your district probably has a general crisis plan, and you will need to follow the guidelines
set down there. However, that does not preclude the need for a building-level plan. You will
need to tailor the district’s standard format to your specific school site needs.

Nedda Shafir, Public Information Officer at Cave Creek Unified School District in Arizona,
and a 30-year education veteran nationally recognized for crisis management planning and
execution, notes in her article, “Recognizing the Critical Need for Emergency Notification in
Today’s Rapidly Changing World,” that preplanning is a critical step. (See “Making Sure the
Message Gets Through” at end of chapter.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia
(, “crisis and emergency risk communication is the attempt to provide information
that allows an individual, stakeholders, or an entire community to make the best possible
decisions about their well-being during a crisis.” Often, this communication must be done within
nearly impossible time constraints and requires public acceptance of the imperfect nature of the
available choices for action. Successful crisis and emergency risk communication is achieved

through the skillful use of risk communication theory and techniques. (See end of section for
further online resources.)

Kevin Teale, Communications Director of the Iowa Department of Health, believes that “a
lot of folks seem to think a crisis isn’t going to happen to them and when it does happen, they
don’t have any plans in place to deal with it. So it’s important that you put a plan together, even
if the likelihood of something happening to you seems rather remote. If you have something put
down on paper, when the unexpected happens, you can go to that plan and react appropriately.”

The CDC recommends spending the most time on the pre-event phase, which is in many
ways the most important phase. The research is clear: every day spent preparing is an
investment in successful communication later on.

During preplanning, your organization needs to consider several factors to ensure it has
the ability to communicate effectively during a crisis:

● What functions are you going to need in an emergency?
● What resources are available?
● Who are your partners and stakeholders?

Begin by forming a committee of staff members. Ask for volunteers first so that you will
be working with people who have a genuine interest. This committee’s charge is to study
potential crisis situations that might take place at your school and to develop an action plan. It is
important that your planning committee be representative of key staff positions such as nurses,
teachers, counselors, secretaries, and custodians. Be sure to invite a representative from the
district office, as the district will play a critical support role in any crisis situation that your school
has. At the high school level, you may also wish to include one or more student representatives.
The more people you can involve in studying and talking about possible crises and their impact
on the school, the more prepared you will be when one actually hits.

Before you begin to write a plan, the crisis planning committee needs to analyze your
school’s crisis needs and gather supporting data and reference material.

● Brainstorm possible crisis situations. You should cover the gamut from a broken leg to
food poisoning to a tornado or hurricane.

● Conduct an open-ended survey of staff members to determine their areas of concern.
They may identify an emerging crisis or something the planning team overlooked. The
survey may also indicate the most likely crisis situations to occur on your campus by the
number of people concerned with a specific issue.

● Collect sample crisis plans from other schools and districts and from local businesses as
well. Institutions such as hospitals often have plans that are excellent references for

● Assemble all pertinent information about your campus. Include accurate maps of the
building and extended campus; staff lists; special programs housed on site (disabled,
preschool, self-contained, detention, and so on); building blueprints; and location of fire
hydrants, power boxes, circuit breakers, gas and plumbing controls, telephones, and
anything else that might be needed in a crisis. The Emergency Management Kit

Checklist at the end of this chapter will help you assemble items needed for an

● Invite local emergency service agencies (fire and police departments, city or county
disaster relief agencies, and the like) to speak to your team or perhaps even to the entire
staff. Ultimately, your plan will be more effective if everyone’s role is clearly understood.

● Gather historical data about crisis incidents that have occurred on your campus in the
past and at other schools in your district. What happened? How was it handled? What
was the outcome?

● Review state laws and regulations and district policies that apply to your emergency

● Conduct a security audit of your campus. You may want to invite community agency
representatives to assist with this effort.

● Once you have determined the various crisis situations your plan will address, divide
your team into subcommittees and assign specific crisis topics to each (e.g., bomb
threats, fire, natural disasters, accidents and medical emergencies, suicide, and so on).

● Decide on an appropriate format that each subcommittee will follow so that the action
plan is presented in a consistent manner. A standardized three-ring notebook is the most
flexible format because it allows you to update and make changes easily.

● Note: It is fine to have your Crisis Plan saved on your computer or network, but a power
outage or computer crash renders such resources essentially useless. Always have a
printed copy available for everyone in your school or district who would need it in a
possible emergency. Many school districts have opted to create a “crisis communications

Some related resources include the following:

● The American Schools Safety Crisis Response Kit,

● The Emergency Preparedness Service,
● Helpful Hints for School Emergency Management: Emergency “Go-Kits,” a

downloadable document,

The following are further resources available on the Internet:

● “Crisis Management: An Opportunity Instead of a Threat,” by Marie Yossava,

● Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.,

It is interesting to note that the Chinese symbol for crisis incorporates the symbols for danger
and opportunity. A good crisis plan allows you to deal with the danger and provides you with the
opportunity to communicate the situation effectively.

Your crisis plan should contain at least the following 10 sections:

1. List of crisis team members, their phone numbers, and the chain of command. The
principal is normally designated as the person in charge. A chain of command is
important in case the principal or other team members are absent or incapacitated. The
next name down the chain can then immediately assume responsibility for managing the

2. Description of procedures for the person in charge.
3. Identification of school area that can be used as a crisis center. It should have access to

a phone or radio and be the area where crisis team members can be found.
4. When an extreme situation warrants that the school be sealed from outsiders, it is often

referred to as a “lockdown.” Some schools prefer not to be subtle but rather will sound a
siren, blow a whistle, or simply announce over the intercom, “This is a lockdown!” Two
sample lockdown information sheets are provided at the end of the chapter. One shows
the responsibilities and procedures for staff to follow. The other is a “what-to-do list”
should a lockdown occur; it is in the form of a flyer that can be posted on campus.

5. Crisis assignments and descriptions of procedures for all personnel. Each crisis team
member should be assigned specific tasks. Classroom teachers are responsible for their
students and should remain with their class throughout the duration of the crisis. All other
staff members should have specific assignments. Those not needed for duties such as
handling phones, securing files, and taking care of the injured should be assigned to
classrooms to assist teachers in caring for students. People are less likely to panic and
will function more efficiently if they have a clear, advance understanding of the role they
will play during a crisis situation. An example of a crisis assignment and checklist is
provided at the end of the chapter.

6. Evacuation procedures. You will need several different evacuation plans in anticipation
of possible hindrances that may block escape routes. You should also determine, in
advance, an alternate off-campus site within walking distance to which students and staff
can evacuate. This might be another school or a church or business that has agreed to
offer shelter in an emergency. Evacuation by bus should also be addressed.

7. Communication procedures. This should include designating a spokesperson to
communicate with parents, relatives of staff, the community, and the news media.
Vallivue High School in Caldwell, Idaho, has organized a telephone calling tree to keep
staff members informed of what is happening. To update its staff, Georgetown High
School in Texas uses a computer calling system that can telephone all staff with a
recorded message. A sample Emergency Calling Tree is included at chapter’s end.

8. Situation-specific procedures. The list of possible crisis situations listed earlier in this
chapter and the list generated by your crisis planning committee will help you identify
areas that need to be addressed in detail. Procedures will vary for each type of incident,
but simple, clear guidelines will assist you through almost any crisis.

9. Training procedures and evaluation drills. Make sure that every staff member has a copy
of his or her responsibilities and is completely familiar with the crisis plan. Conduct a
training session at the start of each year and hold several refreshers during the year,
much as you would do fire drills. Provide each member of the crisis team with a
complete crisis procedure manual.

10. Provision for updating crisis plan at regular intervals.

The school crisis team should consist of people on your campus capable of assuming
responsibility for managing components of the crisis, as well as other individuals as needed.
These are the people who will initially be responsible for (a) responding to the immediate
concerns, and (b) notifying the appropriate people. These first two action steps must occur
rapidly and in as organized and controlled a manner as possible. You will want people who are
able to remain cool and rational during the crisis, as well as people with specific skills that would
be of benefit to those involved. Suggested school site crisis team members include the

● Principal
● Assistant principal
● Secretary
● Lead foreman or custodian
● School nurse
● Counselor or social worker
● Staff members not assigned to a homeroom (for example, P. E. teacher, librarian, art or

music teacher)
● School District Public Information Officer

The principal should serve as the head of the team and be designated the person in charge.
Included at the end of this chapter is a sheet, Crisis Procedures for Person in Charge, on which
to list important telephone numbers that will be needed in an emergency. Keep those numbers
close at hand.

No matter what crisis occurs, the following action steps must be addressed for a successful

● Respond to the event by first meeting the needs of those involved and then containing
the crisis.

● Notify the appropriate agencies and officials.
● Manage the crisis by following planned procedures until it is resolved.
● Communicate the situation to internal and external groups.

Once immediate needs have been addressed and the crisis is contained as much as
possible, the crisis team should assemble to assess the facts of the situation. First, quickly
determine how much time you have to plan your response, for you know that the media will
soon be at your door demanding an explanation. Collect as much information as possible about
what happened and assign someone to keep a written record. Make sure your team members
all have the same facts about the crisis. In a crisis of long duration, the crisis team should meet
at regular intervals for updates so that everyone continues to have the same information. (See

“Guidelines for Handling Specific Varieties of Bad News” and “Threat Call Checklist” at end of

Based on the information collected by the crisis team, determine what information is restricted
and what your primary message should be. Analyze the possible outcomes and reactions of the
public. Develop a response to the crisis and begin communicating. Don’t shortchange yourself
for time in reviewing and analyzing the situation, but it is important to get to this step as quickly
as possible. All communication should be based on facts and should convey your concern about
individual needs.

At this point, your spokesperson should take over. If you have a communications
specialist for your district, let him or her handle the situation. If not, a previously selected
designee from the crisis team should act as spokesperson. This should be someone other than
the principal or person in charge because that person’s attention should be focused on the
well-being of students and staff and on managing and resolving the crisis itself.

Don’t ever assume the media won’t find out a crisis is underway! Media attention is just a
cell phone photo, text message, or BlackBerry e-mail away! Often, a news reporter or TV
camera crew will beat emergency crews to the scene. In certain circumstances, instead of
waiting for the media to show up, you can better support your efforts by contacting them directly
with the facts of the situation.

Instruct staff that all information is to be disseminated through the crisis spokesperson.
No one should make any statement to the media without clearing it through the spokesperson or
the person in charge. Any staff member approached by a member of the media should direct
that individual to the spokesperson.

Following are some guidelines that the crisis spokesperson should keep in mind when
dealing with the media:

● Your first priority is resolving the crisis.
● You have the right to set the ground rules in a crisis.
● Don’t let reporters bully you into saying more than you should, or into speculating about

● Stay calm and stick to your facts.
● Don’t give more information than is necessary; it will only cloud the issue.
● Stay with your primary message—and keep repeating it.
● Don’t attempt to conceal information that is a matter of public record.
● Be honest and explain the situation, along with the positive actions you have taken to

resolve it.
● Don’t be rude or discourteous to reporters or anyone else, even if they are rude to you.
● Never give a “no comment” reply.

If the spokesperson is unable to answer the questions asked, here are several optional answers
that may be of help:

● “No information is available at this time, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I know

● “I cannot release that information at this time, but I will be happy to discuss it with you
when I can.”

● “That is under investigation at the moment, so I’m not free to discuss it further.”
● “I will try and get that information for you. I will call you back later when I have the facts

at hand.”
● “We will release that information just as soon as we have been cleared to do so.”

Again, understand this is an age of instant communication; there may well be informal
messages going out over which you have no control. Communicate by e-mail or phone
message system to your key communicators list—parents, staff, community members—with
your accurate messages and information.

Communicating With Staff and Parents
Keep school staff updated as often as feasible during the crisis. Your crisis plan should provide
several alternative methods of communication, and the situation will determine the best one to
use. Ken Cazier, principal at Star Valley Junior High School in Afton, Wyoming, makes
absolutely sure that a copy of the school’s crisis plan is readily available in each teacher’s
classroom and in the main office.

The media will be able to assist you in communicating with parents during the crisis. As
mentioned in previous chapters, get to know your local media—establish good relationships with
your beat reporters—before you “have to.” They will help you get the accurate information out to
the parents/community. If you have enough telephone lines, you may be able to set up a crisis
hotline for parents to call, or perhaps school personnel can staff a phone bank. However, always
keep one or two lines clear for emergency use.

Following the crisis, it is important that you communicate with parents as soon as
possible, preferably the day of the incident. This is most easily accomplished by sending a letter
home with students. You will have to move swiftly to prepare the letter and get it copied and
distributed by the time students leave. The letter should briefly describe what happened and
then focus on the steps you have taken to reestablish a safe environment and address the
situation. Emphasize your concern and your commitment to attending to the health and safety of
your students. Guidelines for Emergency Notification and Sample Letters to Students/Parents
are included at chapter’s end.

Once the crisis is resolved and you have communicated with the appropriate constituencies,
you still have work to do. Be available to answer questions and address the concerns of staff
and parents following the crisis. At the earliest possible time, bring the crisis team together for a
debriefing. Review your written log of events and study the effectiveness of your responses.
Note the things that could have been handled differently and revise your crisis plan as needed.

Determine what support services are needed to deal with the aftermath. Arrange for
counseling and psychological services for as long as necessary. When appropriate, create

support groups for students, families, and staff. Be as proactive as possible in meeting the
personal needs of everyone involved in the crisis in order to bring the campus back to normal.

Project future consequences of the crisis. What ramifications will it have for your school
next week, at graduation, and on the anniversary of the event? What student behavior problems
might occur in response? Anticipate the possible postcrisis responses by students and
community members, and prepare a plan to address them proactively.

It is important to remember that no two crises are the same and that no plan, no matter
how well prepared, will address every aspect of the situation. Plans provide guidelines by which
to operate, as well as give you a starting point for taking control of the crisis situation. A crisis
may not be avoidable, but it can be managed if the right decisions are made and the right
actions are taken early.

But, of course, many crises are avoidable. A crisis may be prevented by taking the time
to identify potential problem situations and correcting them. Very few crises are surprises to
everybody in the organization. The simple act of closing the gate on a construction area,
removing broken playground equipment, or really listening to a student’s concerns could mean
the difference between an addressable situation and a full-blown crisis. As the old saying
cautions, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Consider implementing a violence
prevention program in your school. One such successful program used in Arkansas, Maryland,
and Virginia is called, “Youth Links = Safe Schools.” It was started by Betty Bumpers, the
founder and president of Peace Links, a Washington, D.C.–based international women’s
organization seeking alternatives to global violence. Youth Links is based on the assumption
that students are not necessarily the problem when there is violence in a school, and that young
people have within them the seeds of solutions. The Youth Links violence prevention program,
called “Listen-Up,” gathers together students, school officials, and community leaders in a
listening forum to bring about positive change. In school after school, when changes suggested
by the students have been made, that assumption has been right on target.

There is another type of crisis that educators face. It is not big or noisy and the media won’t
come. But it is a real problem and a situation that sometimes only a teacher is in a position to
notice: child abuse. This is always a delicate situation, and often, the child will initially deny
being abused. Teachers and administrators dread making a false accusation, but if a child is in
danger, it is better to err on the side of protecting the child—and you may well be the child’s only
protector. Schools and districts must report any abuse, according to the law. It may be
uncomfortable, but it is not optional. It is advisable to communicate with district legal counsel in
any situation involving students and adults, and to follow board policy. Included at the end of the
chapter are several guidelines for obtaining necessary information prior to reporting your
concern to the authorities.

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