When children step onto a public school campus for a day of educational pursuits, their parents leave with the reasonable expectation that their offspring will be kept safe throughout the day. There are, at Durango School District 9-R and public schools across the country, thorough and well-conceived systems in place to ensure student safety. But accidents and incidents occur despite these best efforts, and in the interest of nurturing the essential trust between schools and their communities, the protocol must include communicating fully when things go wrong.
Two recent incidents at Miller Middle School highlight the different approaches schools can take with respect to communication. The first involved a woman who drove onto the school’s campus at around 12:20 p.m. when sixth-graders were outside for their “connect” period. Allegedly intoxicated, the woman steered her vehicle over rocks and weeds and along a sidewalk approaching the school’s basketball courts and football field. Two teachers hurried students out of the car’s path and stood in front of the vehicle, waving for the driver to stop. In the end, no one was injured, but the incident was significant enough to have warranted outreach to parents. None occurred until almost 8 p.m., when the district sent a blast message to parents – long after students had returned home and recounted the event.
While 9-R personnel clearly were not at fault for the incident – in fact, at least two teachers reportedly put themselves in harm’s way to protect students from injury – it was a rather alarming occurrence that could raise concerns among parents. The school should have addressed those much more expediently. Instead, by waiting until hours later to acknowledge and explain the incident, the district created an information vacuum in which questions and anxiety needlessly were elevated.
Several days later, Miller was evacuated briefly after smoke from a laundry vent triggered a fire alarm. Students were out of the school for about 20 minutes, and 20 minutes after they returned, the district sent out an alert to parents informing them of the incident. Doing so set to rest any concerns that could have arisen in the absence of a full accounting of the event.
In both cases, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from communicating fully the details of what occurred at school. In neither case is there a suggestion that 9-R was remiss in accounting for student safety either in advance of or in response to the incident. But communication is a critical component of safety, and erring on the side of oversharing is always better when children’s well-being is at issue. It seems that in the three-day span between the drunken-driving and laundry-smoke episodes, the district dramatically improved its response time and procedures for communicating with families. With the technology in place to quickly disseminate information, rapid response and outreach should be the rule for Durango School District 9-R.