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Got Bad News? Don't Keep Parents in the Dark

Got Bad News? Don't Keep Parents in the Dark

Keep your parents informed when a situation arises in your district.

I've recently had quite a few administrators reach out about negative situations that have occurred in their districts. Usually, they are most concerned with what they should say to reporters who will inevitably reach out for information. But there's another aspect that must immediately be addressed: informing parents.

I get it: some incidents you really would rather just keep on the down low because they're unpleasant, and you probably don't want a bunch of phone calls, emails or impromptu visits from freaked-out or angry parents. But ask yourself this: would you rather parents hear about the situation on the news, in Facebook gossip or from your children? Probably none of the above. We all know how that goes--someone shares out incorrect information and before you know it, what's being told in no way resembles what actually happened. That's why they need to get accurate, timely information first-hand from school leaders.

  1. First off, make sure you have the FACTS. You don't want to share incorrect information, which will only anger your parents. Get all the details in order, and then prepare a communication to send to your parents. You may need to use multiple channels--if you have a communication app or a robo-call system that parents have access to and rely on for district information, use that. If you send information via email, also use that avenue. If you know many families use your website to get current information, post the letter there. If you have a large family following on Facebook, post your message there as well. The key is to ensure as many parents as possible get the message, so cross post if you have to.
  2. You don't have to share everything. If the safety and/or health of all students and staff is compromised, for example, you need to alert all parents. If there was a harmless incident in one classroom that has been addressed, you really only need to contact the families of the students in that particular classroom (or maybe only 1 or 2 families if it was an isolated incident).
  3. Do your best to alert parents prior to media attention. This may not always work, but as often as is possible, they need to be informed before it breaks in the press.
  4. Emphasize an open-door policy for any parents who have concerns. Provide your contact information and offer to meet with parents in person to address their questions. We always recommend when dealing with negative social media comments that you offer to discuss an issue face-to-face. You should do the same here. Eye contact, tone and body language can all help to dispel fear, anger or confusion about the situation, so don't rely on digital communication for further discussions on serious issues. In-person is always the way to go.
  5. If necessary, provide regular updates on the incident. A one-time alert might not be sufficient to keep parents aware of how you are handling the situation, so you may need to provide additional updates.

This I promise: keeping your parents informed and assured that you are appropriately and immediately handling the situation will help earn their trust and respect, and they will appreciate your efforts in making sure your schools are safe places for their children to learn.

Need help crafting messages for your parents (or even the media)? We can help.

Sarah Julian

Director, Communications

Sarah serves as the Director of Communications for the OPSRC. In this role, she provides support, consultation and training on a variety of critical tools and PR functions, including communication plans, social media policies, crisis communications, media relations and website content.

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