Consider the following scenario:
A principal shared, “We had a threat written on a bathroom wall that said, dont come to school this day, and half of the school didnt show up based on the threats. In the wake of that, people started reporting other things on social media. Things just seemed to spiderweb off of the initial threat and we ended up with kids suspended and expelled. To see the whole process unfold has been eye opening.”
Respond to the following questions:
How would you lead the school through this situation?
What information does the superintendent and board need to know?
What should you tell the public?
How can you avoid this turning into a crisis?
1. I would take swift action to ensure that there are no credible threats to our school community first and foremost. After this, I would personally interview every student spreading (mis)information on social media or across the school, and get to the bottom of where this false information is coming from. If students are making threats, or inciting panic by making false claims, they will be removed from the school. I will also work with the district, and local law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations and ensure that the safety and well-being of my staff, teachers, and students is of the utmost importance.
2. I like to maintain transparency and honesty at all times, especially with colleagues/superiors. I would tell the superintendent and the board exactly what has happened, the pending/results of investigations, my recommendation for future action steps, as well as seek their advice for an action plan moving forward. Most importantly, I would tell them the FACTS. Not hearsay, not speculation. I would tell them the facts that we know at that moment, so we can make a logical plan to mitigate these issues.
3. The public would be told facts as well, but more generalized than our internal discussions. Something along the lines of “We were made aware of rumors of threats regarding our student body. We have taken swift action to discipline any students who made threats, and those who purposely spread misinformation to incite panic. We are partnering with law enforcement to investigate this matter further to ensure the safety of everyone in our school community.”
4. You have to control the narrative before it controls you. Get ahead of the story, and tell the truth, but convey to the public that the situation is under control, and that the safety of the school community is the most important priority. Once people begin to overreact and panic, then everything coming from the school will seem reactionary and unauthentic. A situation like this needs proactive, concise, and succinct communication.