WhatsApp is the most popular global mobile messaging app worldwide, with approximately two billion users. That is an extraordinary amount of individuals who are using the service. Through those users, there will be a vast array of group chats which may consist of family members, friends, colleagues and parents of the school.
But what impact do parental WhatsApp groups have on schools and their employees?
The parental WhatsApp group can create a sense of inclusivity for many parents and a safe haven for sharing their thoughts and opinions regarding the school, the employees and other children. Also they are a great way of checking or being reminded of what your child needs on particular days, or for that Sunday afternoon panic, when you suddenly realise that homework was set, but your child has no idea where their homework sheet is and it is due in on the Monday morning!
However, there is a very different side to these messaging groups, as the information shared by parents could be false, malicious or vexatious and serve to erode some of that confidence that parents have in school.
What happens when this information moves into the wider community? What steps can a school take regarding a messaging service, whereby parents have a right to exercise their right to privacy and to the freedom of expression?
Where employees are members of such groups, as they are also parents at the school, and it has been determined that they have engaged in chat that is defamatory or malicious, then an investigation should be undertaken into the matter to determine the facts and any necessary action.
It is simpler to deal with these matters when an employee is involved, but how do you manage those incidents, when parents air concerns about the management of the school or about the class teacher? How do you ensure that this hurtful or untruth communication stops and the appropriate processes are followed?
Firstly, parents need to understand what the expectations are in relation to parental WhatsApp groups and if an issue arises, that the matter is dealt with swiftly.
Secondly, if it is determined that a particular parent or multiple parents are making inappropriate comments about the school, the employees and/or the children, then they should be advised that, it is not acceptable to use this platform as a means of airing their grievances with the school and that they should desist from sending any further messages of this nature.
The parent or parents should be informed of the appropriate processes that should be followed, such as the school’s complaint procedure, in order to enable the school to respond to their concerns or complaints and to seek to resolve them.
Establish the facts that you can substantiate
Obtain relevant evidence e.g screenshots
Who has said what?
Speak with the individual(s) to advise them of appropriate channels and try to resolve the issue
Speak with the member of staff (if relevant) and confirm professional expectations and provide support as appropriate
Keep the situation under review
These types of messages can cause unnecessary distress to the individuals concerned and where appropriate, support should be provided to employees through counselling, occupational health referrals and ongoing monitoring and support.