What Else Are They Hiding From Us?
Over the years as a child safety advocate I have worked very closely with the Montgomery County Public Schools in my cluster to make sure that when there is a serious incident at the school where one of my children attends that the information is shared proactively to allay panic in the community. I can say that across the board the principals in my cluster are generally very good about making sure the community is informed about incidents as they occur, perhaps because they have learned over time that there will be a community backlash if they do not. MCPS might soon also realize that it is best to be forthcoming with information.
MCPS has had a tendency, organizationally, to not share information proactively for many years. We have seen this recently with the April 29 and May 5, 2014 “SWATting” bomb threats at Northwest high school last spring, when parents stormed the school, causing gridlock on the block in front of the building – thereby preventing emergency vehicles from coming in or out AND putting those parents at risk in the case of a real emergency – because the school system was not forthcoming with information about the incident as it occurred. But I can assure you parents were talking, because both my phone and social media were going crazy.
On May 5, 2014 – during the second bomb threat in a week at my child’s high school, I direct messaged Dana Tofig, the MCPS Public Information Officer:
@sjburkinshaw: “Please share info re: NWHS lockdown asap – parents are FREAKING OUT!! (I’m remaining calm…)”
@MCPSPIO: “It appears to be another false alarm called into police but I’m getting more info”
…then later @sjburkinshaw: “Just got the phone message – thank you.”
This followed public tweets on April, 29,2014 after the incident was over:
@MCPSPIO: “The situation at Northwest and Northwest high schools has ended. Students are safe and are back in the buildings.”
@sjburkinshaw: “We also need parents to understand how to react/behave during lockdowns – coming to school during real incidents NOT helpful. @mcps @mcpnews”
@sjburkinshaw: “Better comm during incidents may help—kids were tweeting/texting real-time @mcps @mcpnews@mcfrs were not sharing much info during events.”
Now don’t get me wrong – I understand the seriousness of dispatching a tactical police special operations unit into a high school and that the worst thing to do could be sharing information that benefits the suspect. But sharing no information leads to community anxiety, panic, and a bunch of pissed off parents who race to the school, clog traffic in front of the building, and potentially put more lives at risk. We have seen this persistently over time so why don’t we learn?
I know from experience in my professional career in management that coming out ahead of a bad story proactively minimizes the pain. Knowledge is power and sharing information is the best way to improve productivity, efficiency and morale across the board. However, when you have a network of parents sharing information they are hearing through the grapevine, whether true or untrue, the story becomes exactly that: a story. Later, facts have to be fleshed out, like the game of telephone. Damage control results as we may appear to be saving face.
It is exactly how we tell our kids that we will be less upset if they tell us that they broke a window in the house BEFORE we come across the damage ourselves. MCPS would be wise to learn that coming out ahead of a “story” regarding a serious incident – as “isolated” as it may be – with even minimal information or details about it, is better than parents getting hold of a piece of it and trying to fill in the details.
Just as they would do with their own kids, parents may start trying to find the potentially undiscovered damage throughout the house: what else are they hiding from us?
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Over the years as a child safety advocate I have worked very closely with the Montgomery County Public Schools in my cluster to make sure that when there is a serious incident at the school where one of my children attends that the information is shared proactively to allay panic in the community. I can […]