Sign up for our newsletter

Share This Story

Blog Sep 16, 2020

Responding to Crisis Within A Tiered Supports System: The Importance of A School Crisis Plan

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

“The crisis component of a tiered support system allows for students who are experiencing disruptions in their health, mood, behavior, and/or skill development to receive support immediately.”


By Dawn Foreman, M.Ed. and Renee Prince, LCSW


Now, more than ever before, schools are charged with understanding the impact of trauma and working collaboratively to address and meet the needs of students and staff – especially as it relates to the collective trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Turmaud in Psychology Todaycollective trauma is defined as a traumatic experience that affects and involves entire groups of people, communities, or societies. Collective trauma particularly impacts young people, sometimes leading to significant changes in how they are being educated and the level to which they can socialize with their peers. Children may react to or feel the impact of the stress on their caregivers and teachers. Some signs of this impact include difficulty in focusing, displaying work-avoidant behaviors, or demonstrating disruptive behaviors. 

Prior to the collective trauma caused by COVID-19, many schools across the country treated academic and social-emotional needs separately and failed to acknowledge the integrated and holistic nature of development. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) makes it clear that schools must utilize an integrated, comprehensive approach to address the complex needs of all students, in order to facilitate positive academic outcomes. Both science and practitioner experience confirm this recommendation; when students receive targeted services and supports that are attuned to their holistic needs, both inside and outside of school, significant improvement to learning and experience at school is demonstrated (Cantor, et. al., 2018).  

Tiered Supports

One way schools can operationalize this vision is through the implementation of a tiered support systemThe purpose of a tiered support system is to provide a framework for an adaptive, responsive continuum of integrated supports for all students. There are three tiers of support: 

  • Tier 1 supports are universal and are applicable to all students 
  • Tier 2 supports are designed to provide selective supports to individuals or groups of students whose needs are not being met by Tier 1 supports
  • Tier 3 supports are designed to provide more intensive, individualized supports for students whose needs are not met by Tier 1 or Tier 2 supports 

The Crisis Component

The crisis component of a tiered support system allows for students who are experiencing disruptions in their health, mood, behavior, and/or skill development to receive support immediately. Having a crisis plan is not just important in this moment, but also long-term, given the scope of student need in our country. Each year in the United States, 35 million children cope with some form of traumatic experience. These experiences may come in the form of abuse and neglect, exposure to family and/or community violence, lacking basic resources and homelessness, experiencing systemic oppression, discrimination, and moreleading to a unique set of needs that schools must be prepared to meet.  

Due to the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and ongoing systemic oppression and racism, schools must expand their capacity to support not only additional children, but also staff and family members. Meeting the unique needs of this moment will require a proactive, integrated, multi-faceted approach. It will be imperative that leadership, student support staff, and teachers work collaboratively in the design (or redesign) of a school crisis plan. 

Tools and Resources

Turnaround for Children has curated a set of tools and resources to drive the creation of a school crisis plan. Two of the resources are: 

  • Imminent Risk and Tier 3 Referral Criteria, which supports schools in identifying the crisis indicators that would warrant a student in need of an immediate Tier 3 level of support
  • Re-entry Guidance for School Leaders, who are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of their staff and students. This document provides some considerations for a leader to design their re-entry plans. Incorporation of these considerations will allow for staff, students, and families to move from surviving to thriving and will lead to positive student outcomes. One key component of this guidance document is for leaders to ensure they have a crisis team in place and that they schedule a standing meeting for this team to assemble. 

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

Read the next post in this series to learn more about the importance of collaboration between school leaders, student support staff, teachers and families.