Crisis Communication Teams in Schools

The possibility of having new businesses move to town to provide more jobs is linked to the success of public schools. Simply put, the crisis communication team, which extends across the entire staff, happens to be an essential part of an American community.

When one works for a large school system, the ways of the school become acculturated in the individual. This does not necessarily happen the first year, and a novice will probably make a few mistakes along the way. Using the chain of command as well as diplomacy when dealing with crisis situations that involve the American public schools will help everyone attain a positive outcome in the long run. This article aims to help communicators understand the many crisis situations that can occur in the public school systems located in the United States. Since they serve a wide range of people, almost anything can happen and it’s best to be prepared beforehand.

Testing practices are very important and one possible crisis situation could occur when something goes wrong during the administration of a test. Extended test time, cheating, or nonstandard testing are all possible occurrences that would cause a crisis situation. Test administrators are directed to report any abnormalities immediately. Testing crises have occurred throughout the state and sometimes they have even appeared in the news when there was no foundation for the accusations. Almost anything can become a crisis in testing–such as, for example, when a child reports that he or she had a couple of extra minutes to take a test. Throughout the country, the worst accusations have been made when teachers have been accused of changing the answers on the test. This is one possible crisis situation that is always on the back of the curriculum director’s mind.

In one Georgian county in the early 2000s, a teacher taped her students’ lips together during a classroom game. Although the teacher thought it was a fun game, that situation evoked a publicity crisis and caused the Department of Social Services to have to conduct an investigation. It was very embarrassing for the county schools, and the teacher had to be moved to a new location. She was fortunate not to have been fired for such behavior, but she was well-liked by her peers and by students. Perhaps the author of this paper would have dismissed her permanently.

Other obstacles that a school system could encounter are those of terrorism, a lone gunman, an angry parent, bullying, natural disasters including tornadoes, storms, earthquakes, and other unforeseen accusations in the news. Abuse of students and staff, even death due to natural causes are some possibilities. One year, a student died during a soccer game due to an undiagnosed heart condition. This exemplified how unexpected crises can take place from one moment to the next in a large organization. The school staff needs to have a plan in place in order to discuss these crises with the public in a humane and caring manner that will not ruin the reputation of the school system.

The stakeholders are the people who are most interested in the success of the schools. Stakeholders also benefit from the schools’ successes. They have an ongoing investment in our educational institutions and care about what happens. Not all stakeholders are the same because they are affected differently, but some of the most important stakeholders are the company’s customers who have the special rights of clients. Both customers and employees have an interest in the organization’s success. From one perspective, the employee’s interest can be seen as a little selfish because if things do not go well, there is always the possibility of a massive layoff of staff. This means that employees need to give good service to customers who include students, parents, and local businesses. People who have invested money in the school, those who have given gifts or tax money (the taxpayers, themselves), are also stakeholders because they want to see that their donations are wisely invested, well appropriated, and that they help young students. People who promote our schools and who dream of our schools’ successes are also stakeholders. The ones who drive the buses and the ones who teach the lessons have invested their time and, thus, are valuable stakeholders to be considered as well as respected.

The governors of the various states are, without a doubt, major stakeholders. One might go even as far as to say the President of the United States and the federal government itself are stakeholders. Anyone who is involved in the politics of the states and who has power in public education cares about what becomes of the American public schools.

Each year, we compare tests between various counties within the states, and we compare tests between various states in the nation to determine which states are performing well, despite the fact that we know there are many other factors–other than testing–that demonstrate that a student has had an effective education. Although there is more to education than testing (like learning to analyze the world), testing is still looming over education’s crisis management field.

Parents and students themselves will always be essential stakeholders. Most parents want their children to have an effective education that will bring them much success in the future. More than anything else, parents want to know that their children are safe and protected in the schools. Parents care about the video system installed in the schools to see what goes on during the day, to ensure children’s safety, and they also care about having emergency plans in place to deter criminals from endangering children. Furthermore, the fear of guns and arms looms over the schools.Therefore, police are stationed in the schools to protect each and every campus. Of course, the police are both stakeholders and an essential part of crisis management teams.

Perhaps the public schools have more risk issues and situations to deal with than any other entity. Schools deal with taking care of homeless families, even with spiritual and moral issues of the community. Therefore, the crisis management team must be as flexible as possible (and open-minded) to be able to help people from various cultures, from various ethnicities, and even from various spiritualities. In order to assess all the risks, our school crisis management teams must brainstorm to come up with a list of all possible occurrences. We need input from all members of the community, including the Islamic community, the Christians, the Hindus, as well as many others. One of the best resources that we can use to imagine what crises could befall our community is the newspaper (through research of the news in general). The news provides excellent documentation of crisis situations and how they have been handled by other school systems as well as how, in some instances, the law punished people who were responsible for man-made crises.

Some of the issues that have occurred in other schools throughout the country have included: nepotism, money laundering, buying services for rewards, abuse of teachers by students, abuse of students by teachers, students carrying weapons to school, drugs and alcohol, gangs, sexting, bullying (staff-to-staff and student-to-student bullying and more), depression, heart attack, death, sport-injuries, missing persons, rape, cheating, automobile accidents, delinquency, unfair hiring practices, discrimination, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. It is evident that all schools have much to contend with from year to year, and those who are on the crisis management team have to remain calm, cool, and collect for the sake of the greater good.

We cannot (nor do we want) to have complete control over the family lives and the personal lives of students who come into the schools. As a large crisis management team working in unison, school systems will do their best to protect students and to report any dangers to the Departments of Social Services immediately as needed to protect students. The safety of all involved is of utmost importance!

When it comes to the reputation of our organizations, school systems must insist that all teachers and staff have high moral ethics. Everyone must take a short course in ethics, read the rules of ethics, and even sign a promise to be ethical staff members. Otherwise, he or she will have his or her certificate revoked. Ethics means different things to different people, but to a teacher it means treating others with love and respect.

No matter how important the standardized test scores are in order to receive federal or state funding, there is no excuse for cheating on tests or for committing other unethical testing practices. Should one become aware of such practice, he or she must report the incident immediately to his or her administrator. Otherwise, he or she risks termination and revocation of American teacher certification. The whistle-blowers who report cheating are protected under the law and should report to the next highest member of their teams. Strict adherence to ethical and honest behavior is of the essence! There should be a map showing the chain of command, and this map should be provided to all individuals who make up part of the crisis communication teams in public schools.

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