Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA
Senior Counsel and Partner
Jackson Jackson & Wagner
School predatory sexual abuse scandals continue to be a "hot" issue for decades for educational institutions. Schools can be a Petri dish of opportunity for those who seek to abuse or exploit young people, much like youth sports, summer camps, church groups, etc. How it is handled -- whether it happened last week or many years ago -- is critical to an institution's reputation and relationships for decades to come.
It can feel unfair to have a school condemned for something that happened decades ago, when no one currently on staff, the board, or others were present. It can be frustrating to have a pristine institution painted with in broad-brush strokes, blemished just because something happened elsewhere. It can be horrifying to watch an institution's reputation implode because of the actions of one individual.
There many examples of how not to handle these situations. Many administrations have chosen to keep their heads down, praying that nothing happens on their watch. But it is their responsibility to reduce the risk to their organization now and in the future -- not just while in positions of responsibility.
It takes guts and a real concern for the future to scrub the institution for current or historical missteps, misdeeds or outright crimes. To face them, own them and do the right thing now. Tearing off the band-aid, acknowledging what went wrong, addressing the pain and then making things right is the only way to assure that an organization now and in the future will be understood as one that truly cares about its students and doing the right thing.
There will be those on the Board, as well as alums and staff who will react in horror: "why are you bringing this to light? Why would you voluntarily acknowledge something like this? This was decades ago and no one cares?" Ah, but they do. Somewhere, someone is dealing with the consequences of the decisions made by educational institution and their leaders.
If you educational leaders care about their school, then they need to stand up for the right thing now: Do a cleanse that goes back to the beginning and examine anything that can be found; Talk to those who were involved, document what happened and why, and start talking about it in ways that show an enlightenment that proves that your school will never again allow, never tolerate, never cover up, never sweep under the rug something so hideous.
Will it be bumpy? Yes. Will it raise questions? Of course. Will these schools be setting the best example for their students, their faculty - their community and other schools? No question. But, will the school that does the right thing be better off for it in the long run? Absolutely. "And should you have a plan of action for how to handle, who and when to inform, how to talk about things? no brainer"