Navigating Cultural Controversy

It’s all too common to come across school districts in the news facing backlash for a cultural controversy. Perhaps it was a controversial food served during Black History Month, or a classroom activity that upset some of the parents. As a school leader, how do you navigate the crisis successfully? 

Cultural backlash can make a huge impact on a district’s reputation, so follow the below 5 measures the next time you are in a bind.


Should you find yourself in the midst of a dilemma, a thorough and immediate investigation will need to take place before reacting/responding. Before you address the complaints, look into the situation and all parties involved to obtain the facts. Try to get as much information as possible, including the 5 W’s-who, what, when, where, and why. 

2. Timely Communication

Once you get the facts straight, addressing the concerns in a quick time frame will be important to quell the concerns of the community. If the circumstances require more time to investigate, let the people know that you are looking into it and will address the situation once you have more information. The more time that passes without response, the more it may anger parents and guardians looking for an answer.

3. Empathy

Empathy is a crucial tool to overcoming the situation successfully and mending the bridge. Demonstrate in your messaging that you realize that students/families were offended, and that you care. Avoid coming across as defensive, but rather open to learning, hearing feedback and taking action.

4. Corrective Measure

Ensure the offended parties that the incident at hand won’t happen in the future. Reinforce messaging that indicates that your district values diversity, inclusion, respect and tolerance. If there are steps that you can take to educate staff or students to prevent similar situations, be sure to reflect that in your messaging.

5. Positive Highlights

Try to end on a positive note to wrap up the message. This could be the steps you are taking to move forward in a better direction, or you could highlight other relevant steps the school is taking. For example, if the issue is over food served during Black History Month, you could cite upcoming positive events your schools are hosting to celebrate and uplift the culture. 

If you find your school district in a situation that is over your head, Nichols Strategies is here to help you transcend any school communications crisis successfully! Contact us today