Incident & Threat Communications
We live in a world that values and expects instant communication, which is often a difficult expectation for a district the size of West Fargo Public Schools to meet. This difficulty is experienced in the most general of circumstances, and is exponentially exacerbated during incidents or complex situations.
This difficulty was experienced firsthand by the families of Cheney Middle School at the beginning of November, when their initial notification of a situation at school came from the local news media rather than the school district. The timing of those notifications was not how we should have interacted with our families, and we have reviewed protocols to ensure that this same scenario is not repeated in the future. Our communications process is constantly evolving as we try to meet the needs and expectations of our families, so we appreciate the feedback we receive after situations occur.
While we have identified and addressed that particular issue on our end, there are some things not within our control that will always be difficult to navigate. Our schools are larger than many cities in the state, which means that we have people saying and doing things they shouldn’t on a regular basis. Without some level of filtering on the district’s behalf, parents would be inundated with information…some true, but a lot of false information or misrepresentations of fact. Therefore, we do base decisions on communicating with families on the reach the information has or may have. We consider the amount of conversation occurring at the school about the situation, the number of individuals that were directly involved or impacted, and what has been posted on social media. We also have to be cognizant that we reside in a very large media market that provides a direct line for parents to share information. While all of these factors help to spread positivity about district activities, they do have the potential to create issues for the district during complex situations. The involvement of a large group from the start (be it through social media, contacting the media, or word of mouth) can hamper the investigation, spread rumor about the situation before all the facts are known, and potentially impact the reputation of the individual(s) involved. When a situation occurs at any of our schools, the administration’s first priority is to ensure the students, staff, and the campus are safe. If an immediate threat is discovered, our emergency response protocols will be enacted and parents will be notified immediately If there is NOT an immediate threat, the investigative process begins. In situations when there is no immediate threat, WFPS would prefer to get significantly into an investigation (if not fully complete it) before releasing information to the stakeholders. The investigation is important because that is where the administration gathers any and all information available about the alleged threat and actually determines whether or not there is any truth or validity to the allegations. Without this comprehensive understanding of the situation, our administration would not be able to communicate effectively with parents.