Burlington County School Crisis Response Team

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Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County, New Jersey

Crisis Communication

The School Leader's Role
National School Safety Expert Kenneth Trump describes strong school public relations as "good behavior, well communicated". Even in times of crisis, that definition rings true. As a school leader, how you communicate during a crisis can support your students and staff, encourage a sense of control within the community, and even save lives.
 
Unfortunately, that is what is expected of you as the educational leader, no matter how emotionally involved you are at this time. So, with very little time to plan, you must now provide updates on your crisis to your students and parents, community members, media representatives and, as we've seen far too often, the nation and the world.
 
In times of crisis, there are some simple points your public will need you to make. They are:
 
What has happened?
What do you know about its cause?
What are you doing about it?
When will you know more?
When will you tell us more?
 
(The video below is a wonderful example of a critical press conference done well.)
 
 
Some Communication Tips:
 
  • During a crisis, use all of the methods available to you in reaching out to stakeholders.
  • Utilize your school emergency network to phone, e-mail and text school families that a crisis has occurred.
  • Your district and school websites will be the next place parents go for additional information.
  • Provide all school office staff members with a script. Parents will call every school if lines are busy - even those not impacted by the situation.
  • Make sure a consistent message is shared in all areas - website, social media sites, phone scripts and media releases
  • Messages should contain a time when updates will be provided.
The Media Partnership:
  • Designate a location away from your schools where media conferences will be held. Use administrative offices or other public building where students and staff are not present. Request that all members of the media assemble in that location. Most are respectful of this arrangement, and you need their help to keep your community apprised.
  • You do have the right to ask media members to vacate school campus property if they are disrupting your educational program by seeking to interview students, staff or parents on property. Law enforcement can be called if reporters refuse to leave school grounds. Filming and interviews done just outside school property lines are permissible.

(According to Cornell University Legal Information Institute, "Despite popular misunderstanding the right to freedom of the press guaranteed by the first amendment is not very different from the right to freedom of speech. It allows an individual to express themselves through publication and dissemination. It is part of the constitutional protection of freedom of expression. It does not afford members of the media any special rights or privileges not afforded to citizens in general.")

Sample Communications for Schools in Crisis

A number of sample communications are available for school leaders to use as needed. These include parent letters, announcements to staff and students, web postings, scripts for telephone calls and follow-up communications. The links below provide basic sample communications. For letters, scripts or notices adapted to meet individual school needs, please call or e-mail Marie Reynolds.

Parent Letters:
 
 
 
  
Telephone Scripts:
 
 
 
 
Media Releases: