By Jodie Shpritz, Vice President of Media Relations and Branding
As a graduate of Adlai E. Stevenson High School, I’ve been paying close attention to the recent story about drug raids at the high school. In particular, parents and students outraged that the school is using student’s cell phones in a drug probe. See the full story here on Fox Chicago’s website: (https:///www.myfoxchicago.com/dpp/news/metro/stevenson-high-school-lincolnshire-drug-probe-student-cell-phones-20120202).
When reading the stories, I obviously have several opinions. But you have to wonder of this is a good public relations move? Is the school handling it appropriately? Were they being proactive in their communications efforts or are they now forced to be reactive?
As a public affairs and public relations firm, at Culloton Strategies we are constantly working with our clients on potential crises or sticky situations. We work on creating plans and ensuring that are clients are proactive versus reactive.
In looking at this particular story, I can’t help but think that while the high school was working to keep the kids safe and drug-free (a positive PR move), they weren’t thinking about the potential backlash from the parents and students and how they would be portrayed in the media.
This in particular is a prime example of needing to have a strategic communications plan in place. If the school had communicated with parents letting them know their reasoning for the raids, how they planned to continue to crackdown on students to keep the school safe and if they had been forthcoming with information to parents they could have avoided backlash from the community. Additionally, they should have been prepared to host educational nights on drugs for teens and their parents and implement programs to show they are being proactive versus reactive. This way they are doing something about it, instead of just arresting individuals and suspending them.
I would however like to commend Superintendent Twadell, (my former teacher) for his letter posted online to parents. I felt that it did explain what was happening and why. Additionally, he addressed why they weren’t able to give out more information to the media. The better move would have bee to send out an email directly to parents, as not all of them are checking the high school website. This would have likely curbed a lot of the misinformation out there in the media.
In the end, the school is ultimately doing the right thing by cracking down on drug use of its students. However, it has turned into a public relations nightmare that could have been avoided all together or at least been minimized had they had the foresight and a communications plan in place.