So, what’s it like working for the clampdown?
For the past few weeks, I’ve wanted to pose this question to my friends and contacts who work for the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS).
Why? Because the district, via communications chief Stan Alleyne, sent out an internal email to all employees, with this subject line: “MPS Media Relations policy and procedures.” Alleyne’s email included this instruction:
I’m reaching out to ask that you direct members of the media to me or my staff when they ask you to speak as a representative of MPS. We want to ensure that all MPS personnel deliver clear, consistent and effective messages to students, parents and the general public. Remember that failure to contact the Office of Communications in advance of participation in media interviews conflicts with district policy and could lead to disciplinary action. [emphasis added]
I know, I know—the email, which includes a link to MPS Policy 1150 about “Media Relations,” is probably an innocent, justifiable warning to employees who may be tempted to speak out as representatives of MPS. If they do this, without first contacting Alleyne’s office for “story management” tips, then they can be punished. How? I am not sure. Perhaps they would be required to write “I do not represent MPS” on a chalkboard five hundred times?
Anyway, the district may have a perfectly valid reason for sending this email out, but most MPS people I talked to had no idea what that might be. Some described the email as “chilling.” Some assumed it had something to do with me (can’t imagine why), and others threw out multiple theories connected to principal searches, internal employee shuffling, lay offs, or new admin structures. It appears the possibilities are endless.
Others read through the entire email, and then clicked the link to MPS Media Relations policy. Once there, they discovered an important point to remember:
Nothing in this policy shall imply or impose restrictions on media contact with district employees or district students if such contact is initiated and completed at non-school locations and at non-district related events and the employee is not portrayed as or considered a spokesperson for the district when speaking to the media.
There you have it, friends. MPS’s clampdown on staff contact with the media is not as far a push down the “Farenheit 451 path” as it first seemed. Any employee or student who wants to speak on his or her own behalf about life in the Minneapolis Public Schools can do so, repercussion-free, away from MPS-sponsored events or MPS property.
MPS employees, feel free to contact me if you’ve got something you’d like to discuss. Together, we will uphold the press as the “fourth estate,” designed to keep an eye on public institutions. If done well, we can expect further emails about the importance of toeing the company line, I suppose, but we should not forget either our own Constitution’s First Amendment, or Article 19 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.