How Much is Just Right?
You know that commercial for Bud Lite - Too much vs too little? I wrestled with that dilemma this week when we had to go into real lockdown mode and I had to explain the reason for it on various levels. We hadn't even had a drill yet when the real thing became necessary. It all happened during the last hour of the school day, when I received a call from the central security office informing me to lock down the school because a former employee who was acting erratically and volatile threatened to return to the school following a major blowup with district employees. We had some incidents in the past with this former employee showing up at school and making threats, which had already earned us a plain-clothes guard for several days earlier in the year.
Because the lockdown lasted longer than a normal drill, all staff and most students realized this wasn't just an ordinary drill and began asking questions. They also could see that we had an armed guard patrolling the premises. I sent an email to staff explaining the situation and to explain to students that it was a precautionary lockdown due to an outside disturbance that ultimately did not materialize. How do you explain to kids that a former employee experiencing mental instability was on the loose and making threats that could potentially harm people? We also had to explain the lockdown to parents, who are still calling to inquire about the incident and the safety of the school. The great thing in this age of immediate information is that, while I did not have time to send a letter home with over 400 students, I was able to put an explanation on my blog so that the information was out and transparent before the children arrived home with the big news of the day. And you know how kids can talk it up. While I was outside with students that day loading the buses I heard kids talking about how there was a killer on the loose and we had a SWAT team at the school.
The following morning I worked with our communications department on drafting a letter for parents that revealed the right amount of information without divulging too much or leaving too much room for inquiry and suspicion that we were covering up a potentially dangerous situation. It's definitely a fine line that we tread when we are deciding how much information is necessary. Some parents, of course, felt it was too little and wanted a more detailed explanation, while some actually thanked me for giving them the information that they did receive. I am still receiving calls daily and the message is always the same - our highest priority is providing a safe learning environment. We'll take every precaution and always err on the side of safety. It usually suffices, but there are still those that call everyday to see if we got the guy yet.