School Reopening Priorities and Guidance during the COVID-19 Pandemic
School Social Work Association of America
School Reopening Priorities and Guidance during the COVID-19 Pandemic
(This paper originally appeared here https://www.sswaa.org/)
Our nation is in the midst of navigating two public health crises related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the traumatic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubry and others, both of which are unresolved. The recent and repeated incidents of police brutality in this country is a major public health problem taking a tremendous toll on the psychological wellbeing of Black, Indigenous and People of Color. As school social workers, we are tasked with the responsibility of not only helping our students and families manage these crises, but also the staff with whom we work.
Given the urgency and fluid nature of these times, with the increasing and disparaging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as long standing unaddressed racial inequities have been felt across the United States, how we think and respond to the overarching economic, psychological and racial disparities is critical. The recent and repeated incidents of police brutality in this country is a major public health problem that joins COVID-19 in taking a disproportionately tremendous toll on the health and psychological well-being of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) everywhere. The precipitating factors that pushed our nation into these crises remain unaddressed and unresolved which will impact any chosen re-opening plan:
- There is continued racial injustice toward our black and brown communities and unanswered calls for the necessary societal change to address long standing systemic racial inequities in our institutions.
- There is no vaccine, inadequate testing and contact tracing to mitigate the spread COVID- 19, the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) exceeds availability, and access to medical resources is scarce while health precautions become snarled in political polarization.
- There is disparity with access to health resources specifically in undocumented communities who may not have access to testing and once they are sick, can not afford medical bills, are turned away, or face a long wait for services.
As a result of these unresolved crises and a lack of educational funding to address them, pushing to move forward without attending to the underlying issues will be fraught with challenges.
Therefore, it is critical that school social workers continue to acknowledge and voice how collectively our students, staff, leaders, schools, communities and ourselves are operating in a persistent state of crisis. The chronic nature of this crisis calls for school social workers to
maintain a laser focus on prioritizing physical, emotional, and social safety for students. This includes continual assessment and alignment of services and supports that promote the overall wellbeing and safety of students and the school community; optimizes opportunities to identify and cultivate the services, supports, and family engagement necessary for our students, families, schools and communities; and empowerment to promote the self-care necessary for the resilience to endure and emerge from these challenging times stronger.
The three main priorities in reopening: Safety, Services, and Self-Care Safety
Schools have an integral role in the education of the whole child and the safety and wellbeing of
communities. SSWAA urges school social workers to collaborate with school district administrators and local health officials to assess the readiness for reopening and to plan for when students do physically return to school. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020) has a guiding document that supports school staff in considering the policies and procedures, supplies, training, and communication needed in order to reopen schools in a way that supports the physical, emotional, and social health of school communities.
Whether starting the year off in-person, hybrid or remotely, school social workers will play a critical role because of their understanding of the interrelated importance of physical and psychological safety as well as the ways in which the racism endemic within institutions of education and health care create and exacerbate inequities.
It is imperative, now more than ever, that school social workers take the lead from students, families, and communities. School social workers can use their positionality within schools in order to elevate and amplify the voices and demands of students when it comes to both the school community’s response to COVID-19 and their role and complicity in the racism of our
educational system. School social workers can do their own education as well as educate their colleagues on the ways in which they uphold systems of oppression and white supremacy in schools.
With this in mind school social workers should:
- Stay up to date on national, state, local, and tribal health information;
- Assert a teach first approach to COVID-19 health precautions by supporting purposeful efforts to help students understand the expectations of the changed school environment;
- Ensure that COVID-19 health precautions are integrated and taught from a social emotional learning mindset;
Educate and reinforce with students, their families and school personnel the importance of following CDC guidelines and those of their school district for safety in the school, on the bus, and in their community
Conduct home (“porch”) visits following CDC and local school district guidelines to include social distancing and appropriate PPE .
Support families that have children that test positive for COVID
Support teachers to engage with students about the pandemic and to open the pathways for necessary communication and support regarding the impact COVID- 19 has on our lived experiences.
- Assess and address racial inequities.
- Conduct an equity context analysis at the school and district-level to identify policies and practices that uphold racism and negatively impact BIPOC students and staff.
- Initiate strategic planning to address the outcomes of the equity context analysis that includes school social work at the table.ServicesAs schools reopen, in-person or remotely, social-emotional learning (SEL) and the mental health of students, staff, and families within a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) should be prioritized. School social workers can support schools in identifying and implementing appropriate SEL curriculum so that all students in the school community receive support during these challenging times.Some students will benefit from additional support and intervention, and school social workers should prepare a plan for how to deliver these group and individual services both in-person and remotely. School social workers are poised to make the transition to match the designated educational delivery to prevent any gaps in services.
With this in mind school social workers should practice according to the National School Social Work Model whether supporting in-person, hybrid or remote learning:
Provide evidence-based education, behavior, and mental health services
- Review the NASW Technology in Social Work Practice standards
- Consider confidentiality and ethics in planning for remote services
- Consider using a specific consent form to provide virtual services
- Seek additional training on the provision of virtual services
- Help families navigate the school decision-making process and their rolesupporting student’s education
- Consider adopting tools for virtual engagement and support
Develop a plan for student behavior supports provided virtually
Establish a virtual school social worker office that students and families can access.
Promote a school climate and culture conducive to student learning and teaching excellence.
- Provide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) services through an equity lens
- Elevate and amplify student voices
Elevating student voices in education provides implementation markers and case studies
Support school personnel as they navigate their own stressors
- Step up to be a thought leader
Maximize access to school-based and community-based resources to support students and families.
- Connection & collaboration with community resources will continue to be an emphasis due to the various reopening models and potential shifting between models in response to COVID-19 community trends.
- Maintaining active engagement and connection with community providers to monitor changes to service delivery and appropriately match clients to the services and supports available.
Advocate for vulnerable populations to ensure they have access to education and services that they may need including undocumented students and family members, LGBTQ and Indigenous youth, and Communities of Color.
While providing school social work services we need to stay safe and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we are also trying to navigate the many questions and concerns that this pandemic is raising for us, both professionally and personally, as we worry about our own health and the health of those we love. School districts have begun to share their plans for reopening with their communities and the following provides guidance to support your work.
So that school social workers can provide safety and services, they should:
Protect themselves from COVID-19 exposure
Take care of themselves
Stay in touch with their own emotions
- Document your strengths and practice gratitude
Stay aware of federal policy that impacts personal versus sick time. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Additionally, individuals may receive an additional ten weeks of expanded family and medical leave under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA), which requires that certain employers provide up to 10 weeks of paid, and 2 weeks unpaid, emergency family and medical leave to eligible employees if the employee is caring for his or her son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
Network with your peers through avenues provided by SSWAA
SSWAA’s Practitioners of Color Ad Hoc Committee
- SSW 2 SSW Peer Assistance Network
Approved by the Board of Directors, August 10, 2020
Alvarez, M., Koochel, C., Lucio, R., McCoy, C., Mulkern, P., Ochocki, S., Rivers-Cannon, T., Robles Sinkule, M., Santiago, M., and Villarreal Sosa, L. (2020). School Social Work Association of America School Reopening Priorities and Guidance during the COVID-19 Pandemic. London, KY: School Social Work Association of America.