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Be disaster aware, be prepared, take action


sprclogoby Glenn Morehouse Olson
Throughout September, I find my classes cut short time and time again as the school works to squeeze in the required fire, lockdown and tornado drills. I’ve never really given it any thought. It’s an important part of preparing students in case of an emergency.

However, on Sept. 19 an email appeared in my in-box from the U.S. Department of Education, and it turns out, September is National Preparedness Month.

The headline read:

Be Disaster Aware, Take Action During National Preparedness Month

I have a number of friends and colleagues throughout the country who have faced their worst nightmares in these situations and who understand the importance of being prepared in time of great stress. Although nothing can truly prepare us for disaster, having a plan ahead of time helps.

“Safety and effective learning go hand in hand. So, although September is a very busy time of year for the education community, it’s also a good time for students, school staff, and families to make sure they are up-to-date in their knowledge of school emergency plans, policies and procedures,” the Homeroom Blog stated.

Just as our schools take time to prepare for physical disasters, September is also a good time for journalism teachers to make sure students are up-to-date in their knowledge of legal and ethical policies and procedures that can help prevent prior review and first amendment disasters from happening or, at least help them navigate the storm should disaster strike.

The Playwickian, The Lamp, Cardinal Columns – these are some of the most recent high school publications to face controversy, and each time another school makes national headlines, it hurls me back to a time seven years ago when my own publication, The Crier, faced censorship, potential prior review and possible annihilation.

The keys to our survival were strong policies, prepared students and a supportive community, and probably the luck of the draw that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed.

[pullquote]So, in honor of National Preparedness month, I have included the top 10 lessons my former Editor-in-Chief and I learned seven years ago. We have shared these tips at NSPA and MSHSPA events, and have brushed them off here as a reminder to be disaster aware, be prepared and take action.[/pullquote]

So, in honor of National Preparedness month, I have included the top 10 lessons my former Editor-in-Chief and I learned seven years ago. We have shared these tips at NSPA and MSHSPA events, and have brushed them off here as a reminder to be disaster aware, be prepared and take action.

1. Establish relationships:
Before a problem ever arises, make sure you have done the groundwork to have an open and communicative relationship with administration – including principals, the superintendent and board members. That might mean having a monthly sit down meeting, inviting the principal to host a “press conference” once a month, or attending school board meetings on a regular basis.

2. Establish publication and ethics policies and have them documented in a publications manual. If you are a student forum, this policy should ALWAYS be printed in your publication or documented in a policy section of your online publication.

3. Be prepared and arm yourself with information
Know your policies backward and forward including: school board policies, prior review policies and student press law. A general understanding of major cases gives you background you need to speak about the issues. Know Tinker v. DesMoines, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, Morse v. Frederick and other state and local cases.

Check the SPLC website for recent cases at

Know the story and the issues it may raise. Make sure your editorial board is informed.

4. Call SPLC – (703) 807-1904 if you have any questions about the legality of a piece before going to print. If an incident occurs post-publication, call the Student Press Law Center immediately.

5. Schedule a meeting
Don’t do a “drive by” meeting in the hallway. Don’t be caught off guard. Be proactive and schedule a meeting to discuss the issue and go in prepared. It’s ok to say you want to get back to them after gathering more information.

6. Be professional
Be professional, not emotional. It’s difficult not to get emotional when prior review or censorship are being discussed, but it’s essential for credibility to remain calm.

7. If things go wrong…
If things go wrong it is good for students to say, “I don’t feel comfortable having this conversation without my adviser present.” Advisers can do the same by making sure they have union representation or another set of ears with them at any meeting.

8. Get parents involved
Parents can help affect change by making calls, attending board meetings, writing letters to the editor and just by showing up to let people know they support student rights.

9. Craft a press release
Local and National media can get involved and help the cause. Make sure to let the students do the talking and that one or two students are the spokespeople on the issue. All editorial board members should remain informed.

10. Try a meeting of the minds
Don’t rush the process. Maintain integrity. Document, Document, Document. Ask to use a recording device to document meetings. Sometimes it’s better to delay a vote or action if it means a better long-term outcome.



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