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School PR: Preventing Legal Problems

Administrators will enjoy these helpful school public relations tips shared by former EducationWorld Community blogger Maris Callahan. Be sure to read all of her great advice on PR for schools.

Your school has implemented a public relations program. After spending hours honing and developing a winning program, your PTA has given its blessing and your school board has signed off on the hard-won you're good to go, right?

Maris Callahan


In any school, especially one serving younger students, parents are an important part of the education process. In addition, your school's public relations program probably involves your students, either directly or indirectly. The program also may include outreach to local media, planning on-site or off-site events to help integrate the school with the community and the public release/discussion of academic records.

To safeguard your students--and prevent a messy legal battle that undoes all of your hard work--keep some of the following documents (which can easily be found on the Internet) in mind as you execute that long-awaited PR effort.

Non-disclosure agreements.  These forms are used when you want to legally prohibit a reporter from sharing information that you have disclosed with him/her. Should you ever release private information to the media, whether "off the record" or to offer background information or context, it may be prudent to request that the reporter sign a non-disclosure agreement to ensure that students' privacy will be protected. To the same end, it is important to tell parents if and how proprietary information will be used, especially as it may relate to standardized test scores.

Photo Release Forms.  If you are planning to invite reporters to an event, whether it be a fun outdoor excursion off school property for Earth Day or a Friday family movie night in the school cafeteria, you should not let them pose for any media photographs unless they have a photo release form signed by a parent. If a photo of a minor child appears in print or online form without permission, there could be legal ramifications. To avoid these, ask parents to sign a blanket form in the beginning of the year so that you can keep track of their preferences. If you can give parents advance notice that a photographer will be attending an event, this also reduces the likelihood of incidence.

Privacy policy.  It is important that any school has a privacy policy governing how it will collect, use, share and protect information gathered from students or parents at a given time. It is especially important that schools who are conducting proactive public relations campaigns be diligent about updating and maintining this policy, as your school may suddenly fall under closer public scrutiny.

About the author

A social media expert, freelance writer and public relations professional for many high-profile companies, Maris Callahan is the author and publisher of the food blog In Good Taste and the new Chicago online lifestyle magazine My Daily Find Chicago.


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