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. Plans should outline comprehensive school counseling services that will be provided and address equity and access issues such as ensuring students have access to computers and internet.
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, school social worker/psychologist and school nurse, plus other personnel deemed necessary.
Plans for providing comprehensive school counseling services should take into account any state-specific legal mandates as well as ethical concerns. The ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors (A.15 Virtual/Distance School Counseling) provide guidelines for working in a virtual or distance learning environment. Providing school counseling services and activities in a virtual setting presents some challenges and limitations. Here are some issues to consider.
Instruction: Prioritize the most critical academic, career and social/emotional lessons while continuing to teach the school counseling curriculum as much as possible through school/district online platforms. The uncertainty of working in a new environment may bring heightened stress to students. Review the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors standards and focus on standards aligned with student needs and related to heightened stress such as:
Appraisal and Advisement: Follow school/district guidelines when accessing student records, strengths/interests inventories and other student information through available online platforms. Be accessible to students through email, phone or online platforms for advising following the communication plan developed with school/district administration. Encourage students and families to use appropriate online resources to enhance academic, career and social/emotional development.
Counseling: Use school/district online platforms or communications methods following the communication plan to provide distance counseling. Recognize and mitigate the limitation of school counselor confidentiality in a virtual setting, which may include unintended viewers or recipients. Emphasize these limits in communications with students and families and when establishing boundaries of virtual counseling.
Consultation and Collaboration: Use email and any available school/district online platforms and resources to provide consultation and collaboration with families, teachers, administrators and other school staff. Educate the school community on how to best access the school counselor.
Referrals: Because school counselors do not provide ongoing therapy, the team should review and update the list of available outside mental health services, social/emotional and physical well-being support and share with parents and families. Post referral information on the school counseling website as appropriate.