What studio owner wants to spend time thinking about the worst that can happen? Yet as the dance studio business continues to expand, the number of dance studio–related scandals seems to grow in proportion: Sexual abuse allegations make headlines, copycat studios pop up around the corner and "borrowed" choreography winds up onstage at the next competition. Thinking through a crisis management plan ahead of time and adopting wise risk-reduction strategies will help protect the hard-earned success you've achieved. Read on for three studio scenarios and the steps to appropriately deal with them and prevent them from happening at all.
When Your Employee Is Accused of Abuse
If a student has accused one of your faculty members of sexual abuse, you'll immediately need a lawyer. Let parents and students know what steps you've taken to get to the bottom of the situation, and tell them the faculty member has been suspended until any allegations are proven false or true. Most important, announce that you are entirely available for any questions or concerns. Your clientele needs to know that their safety is always your first priority.
Amber Henrie, CEO of the New York City–based public relations firm In The Lights, recommends issuing a statement within 24 hours—and making sure that your statement is first reviewed carefully by your legal counsel. "Don't feel pressured to respond immediately and rashly," Henrie advises. "You don't want to let your emotions influence your public response, especially if you find yourself aligning strongly with either your faculty member or the student."
The statement should be transparent, concise and professional, Henrie says, with an opening paragraph acknowledging the situation and another explaining what is being done. Generally, 400 words is an ideal length for your statement. "It's important to get positive words out," she says. "Words like 'committed,' 'responsible,' 'sorry' and 'safe' work well. Just think how you'd want to be dealt with if you were on the other end, and you'll find the appropriate tone." She also warns that you'll need to immediately implement any changes you have promised: "That's how your parents will see that you're there to protect and support your students."
Institute mandatory employee background checks, if legal in your state, including personal references, a police record check and an educational record check, says Joanne Klenk, vice president of insurance operations at dance studio insurer Scott Danahy Naylon Insurance Agency.
Make sure your studio insurance includes coverage for accusations of abuse and molestation. "Without an abuse and molestation policy as part of your liability insurance, you'll have no defense coverage," says Klenk. "Even if the accusations are groundless, you'll still be entirely on your own dime."
In staff orientations and regular meetings, be sure to cover how to recognize the signs of abuse and handle reports of abuse. Physical interaction between dance teacher and student is important for kinesthetic understanding, but train your faculty to avoid situations that could be deemed questionable, such as being alone with a student or helping dancers change in the dressing room.
Implement a plan to monitor staff in day-to-day relationships with your students. "You'll always want two people in the room," says Klenk. Parents will be grateful for the extra class supervision, and your staff will be appreciative to have someone else to corroborate their stories if allegations ensue.
Install windows in your studio classrooms, Klenk advises, to promote transparency of all studio practices. Encourage parents to be present, especially at costume fittings, and to supervise any dressing room trips.