Responding to Hate and Bias at School
Section Two: When There's a Crisis
Provide Accurate Information—and Dispel Misinformation
This is less about a step in the crisis-recovery process and more about your overall management of the response to an incident.
Misinformation often runs rampant in the aftermath of a bias-based incident at school. A fight involving two people becomes a melee involving a dozen or more. Stories of possible retaliation are whispered in hallways. Tales of “what really happened” allow for exaggeration, ratcheting up fears. In a crisis, you are tasked not just with managing information, but also with managing misinformation.
You cannot monitor everything, but you can designate a person or a small group to keep eyes and ears on various information sources, bringing misinformation to the attention of the incident response team in a coordinated, ongoing way.
Read comments on news websites. Browse Facebook and other social media sites. Follow Twitter. Spend time in the cafeteria and the hallways, listening to what is being said.
Create a fact sheet about the incident, and keep it updated—specifically correcting misinformation. Don’t let misinformation take root in the school or community; once that happens, it becomes much more difficult to correct.
Use each new communication—statements, emails, public address announcements, comments at meetings and school gatherings—to correct misinformation and reiterate facts, always coming back to the values message that there is no place for hate in this school.
And be careful as you gather your own information. Don’t jump to conclusions. If you are hasty, you may spread misinformation yourself and then appear to be backtracking or sidestepping something when you try to correct your own misinformation. It’s OK to say, “We don’t know that yet.”
And what if the incident turns out to be a hoax or fabrication? It happens, and it calls for a constructive response as well. In the case of a hoax, address the negative impact of the act anyway, even as you denounce the deception. Clear up any rumors and point out the damaging effects these deceptions have on confidence and trust. “Crying wolf”—lying about a threat—damages the peace and safety of the entire school community. And remember, just because someone has cried wolf does not mean a problem does not exist; continue to look into the issue to see if a pattern of hostility exists.