Winnipeg School Division's PR myopia - Dooley PR

Imagine that you’re the Winnipeg School Division and your current claim to fame is a couple of cell phone videos of two of your teachers simulating a lap dance and oral sex during a high school pep rally. The high school is pilloried by media around the world. The teachers in question are lambasted by students, parents, politicians and every human being who hears the story and shakes their head in dismay.

So what do you do if you are the Winnipeg School Division? Why, you pretend nothing has happened at all. That has been the approach of the WSD administration ever since the Churchill High School lap dance scandal broke.

Today’s Winnipeg Free Press reported that the division has even removed any media stories from the clippings it sends to its trustees. Those would be the same trustees that the citizens of Winnipeg elected to govern the administration.

Let’s repeat that: the trustees are supposed to govern the administration.But I digress.

This story continues to go from bad to worse. What started as a serious lapse of judgment for a couple of high school teachers has escalated to a potential crisis of confidence in the entire school division administration.

It’s hard to tell why the administration is burying its head in the sand on this. There have been a few comments saying that it’s a personnel matter and therefore is entirely private. That may be, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also a full-blown communications crisis for the school division and the school in question.

As it happens, I live in the catchment area for Churchill High School. I also have a son for whom my wife and I have to soon decide if he’ll attend Churchill or some other school that doesn’t have lap dancing during pep rallies. As a parent, I’m looking for some sign that the school and the division understand the depth of the mistrust this episode has bred. As a voter, I’m searching for some evidence that the school division is capable of handling itself competently. Sadly, I’m seeing the exact opposite on both counts.

The school division could have taken a much more pro-active approach to this situation while still respecting the privacy of the teachers. Its executive management team should have immediately responded both within the school community (before it hit the media). And once it hit the media, it needed to speak through the media and via its own publications to the general public (to reach would be parents like me). We need to be reassured of the culture and policies at work in our schools and in our school division.

Instead, the only public action it’s taken has been to threaten the students who took the videos and to see that they’re removed from YouTube. Seems to me they’re trying to move mountains to protect the reputations of two teachers that have deservedly lost them on their own. Meanwhile, the reputation of the WSD and of Churchill High School has been permanently smeared by their inaction.

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