As schools work to safeguard student health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, school counselors are challenged to meet student needs both at school and outside school in the event of closures. ASCA has developed some recommendations for both situations. Here you'll find a number of resources for talking to students about the pandemic, including encouraging parents to limit their children's exposure to news media, providing a calming influence to students as needed, and helping students address their fears.
Schools, working together with local health departments, play an important role in slowing the spread of diseases to help ensure students have safe and healthy learning environments. Please review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Interim Guidance for Administrators of US Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
In terms of the ASCA Annual Conference, we continue to closely monitor updates from the CDC, as well as state and local public health authorities. At present, the ASCA Annual Conference will be held June 27–30 in Seattle, as scheduled. However, full refunds are available for registration through May 31. Please know that your health and safety is our top priority and, certainly, members should consider their own health in decisions to travel. Please follow @ASCAtweets and the ASCA website for updates.
ASCA has also developed guidance for school counselors to continue to meet student needs in the event of a school closure.
The rapid spread of COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, has forced districts to review and in some cases implement emergency shutdown plans. As with any school safety issue, ongoing collaboration among campus staff, administration and district personnel is critical.
Depending on your district’s safety protocol, a school may want to appoint a multidisciplinary team to create plans so services can continue in the event of a shutdown. This team should include an administrator, school counselor, lead teachers, social worker/psychologist and school nurse, plus other personnel deemed necessary.
Any plan should involve comprehensive school counseling services that would be provided, while taking into account legal (depending on the state) as well as ethical concerns. Because school counselors do not provide ongoing therapy, the team should develop a list of available outside mental health services and share with parents and families. Ensure equity and access issues are addressed in any coordinated plan as well, such as ensuring students have access to computers and Internet.
Guidance on Virtual or Distance Learning Programs
The ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors provide guidelines for working in a virtual or distance learning environment. Providing school counseling services and activities in this setting presents some challenges and limitations, but here are some things to consider.
- Have you worked with administrators to develop a plan for how students and families can reach the school counselor through phone, email or online platforms?
- Do you have procedures for students to follow in both emergency and non-emergency situations when the school counselor is not available?
- What steps will you take to recognize and mitigate the confidentiality limits you may face as virtual/distance school counselors? Remember to follow your school and district policies for online services/activities, accessing student information and using online platforms.
- How will you educate students on ways to participate in the relationship with the virtual/distance school counselor? Develop methods to minimize or prevent potential misunderstandings that could occur due to a lack of visual and verbal cues or the inability to read body language.
- Are you using school and district online platforms to communicate with students? Do not use your personal phones. If a communications method is not readily available, work with your school and district administration to find a solution.
- Are you providing as much information on the school counseling website as possible? You should be prepared to update it frequently.
Providing Direct Student Services
Should you be forced to develop alternative methods for providing direct services to students, prioritize the most critical academic, career and social/emotional lessons while continuing to teach the school counseling curriculum as much as possible. Because the uncertainty of working in a new environment will bring heightened stress to students, emphasize the following:
- Belief in development of whole self, including a healthy balance of mental, social/emotional and physical well-being.
- Self-confidence in ability to succeed, manage transitions and adapt to changing situations and responsibilities
- Effective coping and personal safety skills
- Social maturity and behavior that is appropriate to the situation and environment.
You also should encourage families to use appropriate online resources to enhance the students’ ongoing academic, career and social/emotional development.
Providing Indirect Student Services
If you are providing indirect services to students, you should make a concentrated effort to educate the school community on how to best reach you. Use email and any available school/district online platforms and resources to consult and collaborate with families, teachers, administrators and other school staff. Provide resources on how to receive mental health, social/emotional and physical well-being support on your website.