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Blog Sep 16, 2020

Responding to Crisis Within A Tiered Supports System: How To Launch A School Crisis Plan

Part three of a four-part series. Read parts one, two and four.

“The intentional, collaborative response of the school community to support the needs of its members will work to strengthen resilience and mitigate the impact of the challenges resulting from this pandemic…”


By Renee Prince, LCSW


In the first post of this blog series, we discussed the challenges facing our students and families today, including forms of adversity and trauma, the pandemic, systemic oppression, and racism. We discussed the need for schools to implement tiered support systems that leverage both the strengths of students and families and that are responsive to their needs. However, we recognize that this may not be sufficient to meet the needs of the moment given the scaled nature of COVID-19. This traumatic event has negatively impacted the livelihood of so many students and families. There is an acute need for supports that can be provided with increased urgency; therefore, it is of critical importance for schools to develop a crisis plan to enhance Tier 3 services. Turnaround curated a set of tools that enable schools to identify which students are in need of immediate support, along with guidance on what school leaders should consider to be responsive to the needs of students, families and staff.

Implementation of a school crisis plan also requires collaboration among school staff. In the second post of the series, we discussed ways to leverage the strengths and expertise of other members in the school community who can be integrated into the crisis plan, in order to provide a holistic approach that can address the needs of all students. We also provided some key principles to inform the design and implementation of the crisis plan.

Implementation Strategies

Now, we want to share some strategies for educators to consider when getting started with the implementation of a school crisis plan. These strategies are intended to provide some general guidance to school leaders as plans will be designed based upon the school’s context.

First, school leaders should proactively connect with student support staff to discuss potential challenges currently faced by the school community, as well as any potential internal/external resources available to support those challenges. For example, there could be a significant number of students experiencing food insecurity or having challenges with their mental health. A school may have a food pantry and could provide direct support to families in need. Another example, is that a student support staff member may make a referral to a mental health agency to support emotional needs.

Next, leaders should assemble a crisis team to provide input and implement components of the crisis plan. Here is a list of school staff who should sit on the crisis plan team:

  • Student Support Staff who will co-lead (with school leadership) the crisis plan team and provide clinical mental health expertise and consultation
  • Member of the Leadership Team–ideally, the principal or assistant principal–who will bring knowledge of what school resources are available to support identified community needs
  • Parent/Caregiver/Community Coordinator to bring in the perspective of families; this person is often the main point of contact with families, knowledgeable about available resources and provides a bridge between families and schools
  • Instructional Coach who will bring academic content and pedagogy knowledge to ensure academic and social-emotional supports are integrated for students
  • Mental Health Agency Representative (if already part of the school) to reinforce clinical expertise and consultation as well as share information about resources available in the community

Once team membership is decided, leaders should communicate via email, telephone, or video conference to inform them of their team membership, the purpose of the team and to request input to determine the date (in the very near future), time and venue (virtual, conference line, etc.) of a first meeting.

During the first meeting, it is important to ensure everyone is on the same page about the purpose of the team, how often the team will meet, and the expectations, roles, and responsibilities of team members.

Recommended Topics for the First Meeting:

  • Purpose of the team
  • Team member roles and responsibilities
  • Decide what information will be discussed and where will it be stored
  • Decide how relevant information will be communicated to staff, students, families (use our Caregiver Interview)
  • Build knowledge around crisis plan implementation
  • Begin to discuss students and/or families of concern
    • Next steps for those students and families
  • Next steps for team members, as necessary
    • Determine agenda items for the next meeting
  • Next meeting date

Another note for consideration is to send an agenda in advance (from leadership or in collaboration with Student Support) so that team members can provide input and come prepared to the meeting with any important updates, potential resources, or questions. The topics included in the sample agenda above are not an exhaustive list. Rather, they are intended to provide some guidance for educators on how to get started. As stated earlier, the implementation of the crisis plan will vary per school based upon the directives from the state, local district, staff capacity and needs of the school community.

Turnaround for Children offers a variety of resources to support and help inform the creation of a crisis plan, emphasizing the leadership of student support and collaboration among team members – leveraging the whole team’s unique strengths and expertise.

The challenges of this pandemic have forced schools and families alike to make adjustments in their daily ways of functioning. However, the intentional, collaborative response of the school community to support the needs of its members will work to strengthen resilience and mitigate the impact of the challenges resulting from this pandemic on the road to recovery.

Access the Responding to Students’ Urgent Needs tools and resources on the Toolbox by creating a free account.

Read the final post in this series for additional support in the planning and implementation of a tiered supports crisis plan.