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It is important to have an established plan for communication with the media when a crises occurs within a school district. Representatives of the media can become partners in informing the community of the pertinent details of the crisis and the ways in which the district has responded. A good media communication plan will provide for a streamlining of accurate information to the public and will enhance internal communication as well.

If the relationship is built on trust and integrity, working through a crises together is not nearly as difficult. Suggestions for developing that positive relationship might include providing your media representatives with regular information on upcoming events, returning telephone calls promptly, readily responding to their requests for information, or initiating a meeting to discuss their communication needs. In summary, direct and honest communication from you will earn the respect, and even friendship, of reporters whom you can trust when a crises comes.

Developing district policies and procedures regarding media relations is the first step in clarifying staff action in difficult times. The next section includes sample media policies, and the following suggestions can serve as a model for building a media relationship. These policies and procedures should be individualized to meet the needs and conditions of your building or school district.

Media Communication Procedure

The following procedures address the channels of communication which should be established with media representatives. Of equal importance is the communication of information to the internal audiences of the district, especially the Board of Education. When the district is informed of a crisis, members of the Board and all administrators should be informed immediately. All staff members should know the name and phone number of a district or building media contact person and should understand the guidelines for their responses to media questions concerning the crisis.

Step One Media Contact Person
In most cases, the media contact person for a school district will be the superintendent, the public information specialist, or the building principal. Depending on the nature of the crisis, these or other individuals might assume this role. It is most important that the identity and phone number of this individual be provided for all staff members concerned with the crisis so they may direct media inquiries to that person. At the onset, this individual will focus his or her attention on gathering all available information, compiling it, and distributing it to the Board and administration. Regular updates of this information should be provided as needed. Advanced planning will reduce future difficulty and accuracy.

Step Two Contacting The Family
In the event that this crisis involves a death or injury, this collection of information includes contacting the family of the victim. The contact person should explain the district's policies and procedures for communicating with the media, and in some instances, may offer district assistance in issuing a statement for the family. An assurance of confidentiality on the part of the district is most important as well as a sensitivity to the family's needs.

Step Three Taking The Initiative With The Press
As soon as accurate information has been gathered and internal contacts have been made, the media contact person should take the initiative in contacting the media. This contact may be in the form of a telephone statement or a written release. In some cases, the district may elect to conduct a press conference which allows the reading of an official statement and questions by a group of media representatives. This initial communication is a good time to establish group rules for reporters. The media contact person should explain that any contact with students must take place away from the school. Do not attempt to "muzzle" the media. The correct information you give about your school is better than inaccurate information or the "guessing" which can occur when you refuse to allow interviews. Remember, you are not the sole source of information. Police reports are public documents; news rooms have scanners; police checks are a twice-daily routine in most news rooms; reporters have personal sources. Decide what is appropriate for the school or district to say and say it. Prepare and issue a statement. Express the sorrow of the faculty and student body, explain what is being done in the school to deal with the reaction to the crises, make positive comments about the deceased student.

It is very likely that in spite of these early communication efforts, you will receive a surprise visit from a television crew or newspaper reporters. In these events, the principal or media contact person should invite the media representatives to his or her office and explain the ground rules about not disrupting the school routine. Do not allow media persons to roam the building or hallways. Communicate to the media representatives that you are willing to provide them with information. By conveying a cooperative attitude, you can impact how the story is covered by the media. If you have a number of television companies who wish to film in the school, ask them to work together to "pool" their tape. This will eliminate having the television camera add to the problem. One station can film and share it with the others. The print media will want to take pictures, but this type of filming is not as offensive in crises. Conflicts may arise that stem from differences in role. Continue to restate the need to protect the students and educational process from unnecessary turmoil. Bear in mind that you must allow time for deadlines. A good time for a press conference is 9:30 a.m. so the newspaper will have the same advantage as the television stations. Have information printed and give copies to all who attend so the facts cannot be disputed. Do not talk off the record. Most reporters do not recognize "off the record" comments, but even if they do, the information can be damaging at a later date. Say what you must-openly and honestly, giving the facts. Never commit the faux pas of asking the reporter to see the story before it is used. The reporter's responsibility is to the audience and his/her boss-not to your program.

The media contact person should take advantage of all opportunities to advise the community of the positive steps the district has taken to help staff, students, and parents cope with and recover from the crises.

Any emotional support being provided to the staff or students should be communicated. This support may take the form of school assemblies or individual assistance via social workers, psychologists, or counselors. Do not miss the opportunity to convey the district's acceptance of its responsibility to respond positively to the crises.

Step Four Advise Students Of The District's Media Procedure
Students are, perhaps, the least prepared to handle media questions about a crisis. Teachers or administrators should explain to students that reporters may be asking them questions and suggest that they not make any comment they would not want said about themselves. Students need to understand that they don't have to talk to reporters and should feel free to say "no" if that is their inclination. If they decide to speak to reporters, they should do so away from school. While on school grounds, media questions will be addressed by designated adults.

Step Five Keep Accurate Records
The media contact person should keep a record of all printed articles concerning the crises. In some cases, it is even possible to obtain videotapes of news broadcasts concerning the crisis. These will be valuable as the school district evaluates its Media Communications Procedure after the crisis is over. A record of all media releases and subsequent articles may help future administrators to deal with similar crises.

Partnership is the catch phrase in education today. It is important for educators to remember that the media can be a constructive partner in effective communication with the public. This partnership is invaluable during times of crises. By developing a healthy relationship with your media representatives and establishing a Media Communication Procedure, your district can be prepared when a crisis occurs.


Sample Media Policies

School District Personnel And The News Media

As a general rule, school district personnel may not be interviewed during the school day or periods of extracurricular activities by anyone other than school district officials regarding school business. School district personnel, while on the school district grounds, shall refer requests they receive to be interviewed or to provide information to the news media to the administrative office in their building.

It shall be within the discretion of the superintendent to allow news media to interview and to receive information from school district personnel.

It shall be the responsibility of the superintendent to develop administrative regulations regarding this policy.

Legal Reference: Iowa Code 279.8 (1987).

Cross Reference: 901 Public Communications

Approved: ________________ Revised: ________________

IASB POLICY DEVELOPMENT SERVICE--REFERENCE POLICY--1988

Code No.

News Releases

The board president or superintendent shall determine when a news release about internal school and board matters will be made. Such news releases will be prepared and disseminated to news media in the area.

Only the board president or superintendent will be available on behalf of the school district and the board to answer media representative's questions about the news release.

It shall be the responsibility of the superintendent to approve news releases originating at the schools prior to its release to the news media.

Legal Reference:
Dobrovolny v. Reinhardt, 173 N.W.2d 837 (19__).
Widmer v. Reitzler, 182 N.W.2d 177 (19__).

Iowa Code 21.4, 22.7 (1987).

1980 Op. Att'y Gen. 73.

Cross Reference:
902 Press, Radio and Television News Media

Approved: ________________ Revised: ________________

IASB POLICY DEVELOPMENT SERVICE--REFERENCE POLICY--1988

Code No.

Students And The News Media

As a general rule, students may not be interviewed during the school day or periods of extracurricular activities by anyone other than school district officials and personnel. The students, while on the school district grounds, shall refer requests they receive to be interviewed with or to provide information to the news media to the administrative office in their building.

It shall be within the discretion of the principal, after consulting with the superintendent, to allow or disallow the news media to interview and to receive information from the students while the student is under the control of the school district. The principal may also contact the student's parents.

It shall be the responsibility of the superintendent to develop administrative regulations regarding this policy.

Legal Reference: Iowa Code 279.8 (1987).

Cross Reference: 502.13 Interrogations of Students by Outside Agencies

901 Public Communications

Approved: ________________ Revised: ________________

IASB POLICY DEVELOPMENT SERVICE--REFERENCE POLICY—1988

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