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SCHOOL CRISIS Response Checklist

by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness

The following checklist was developed to facilitate an effective crisis response and maintain Emotional Wellness before, during and in the aftermath of, a school-based crisis. This list will require modification to address the nature of the crisis situation and should not take the place of competent professional services. By reaching our school families early, we can potentially prevent the acute stress difficulties of today from becoming the chronic problems of tomorrow (Lerner, 1997).

I. Fact Gathering

❏ Notify building principal

• Attempt to clarify facts surrounding the crisis

• Determine immediate need to vacate or lockdown

❏ Contact police and/or fire department

❏ Contact school district administration

❏ Contact parents/guardians (of individuals involved/affected; if known)

• Obtain consent for release of information

❏ Principal consults with assistant principal, dean and/or school psychologist

• Determine the need for assembling the Crisis Response Team

II. The Call to Action

❏ Assemble the Crisis Response Team

❏ Share facts with team members and assess the impact of the crisis

• When did the event occur (e.g., during a lunch period, over the summer)?

• Where did the event occur (e.g., on school grounds)?

• How did it happen (e.g., accidental, intentional, expected)?

• How many students and staff are affected by the event?

• Which students and staff are affected?

• How are the students and staff affected?

• How are the faculty responding?

• Should classes be suspended temporarily or assignments altered?

• Should students be released from school?

• How are students indirectly being affected (e.g., siblings/friends at other buildings in the district, etc.)?

• Determine if additional support services are needed (e.g., psychologists/social workers/counselors from other buildings)

• Weigh appropriateness of “unknown” professionals

• Provide identification badges for “outside” professionals

• Update school district administration

III. Notification Procedures

❏ Consider:

• Announcement to students and faculty

• Announcement should be concise, not give too many details that could be misinterpreted

• A student assembly

• Location of support personnel (e.g., library)

• Need for students to sign out of class and in with support personnel

• Mailbox memorandum to faculty and staff

• Emergency faculty meeting (first thing in the morning)

• Notification of students in classrooms by Crisis Response Team

IV. Crisis Response Team in Action

❏ Administrators and security circulate through the building.

• “Pockets” of grieving students should be directed to location of support personnel

• Consider email/letter to be sent to students’ homes — facts, summary, reactions, guidelines,contact numbers.

• All staff can utilize the Acute Traumatic Stress Management model.

• “Connect, Ground, Support, Normalize and Prepare”

• Team members should visit selected classrooms to provide opportunity for discussion.

• Teachers should allow opportunity for students to articulate their thoughts and feelings.

❏ Counseling with individuals and small groups by psychologists, social workers and/or guidance counselors.

• Attempt to cultivate a “helping relationship” characterized by empathy, warmth and genuineness.

• Encourage people to express their feelings.

• Be careful not to lecture.

• Avoid cliches such as, “Be strong...” and “You’re doing so well...”Such cliches may only serve to reinforce an individual’s feelings of aloneness.

• Attempt to “normalize” grief reactions.

• Remember that cultural differences exist in the overt expression of emotions.

• Maintaining confidentiality, when possible, is crucial.

• Provide snacks (e.g., juice, cookies, etc.) to students and support staff.

• It is important to remember that we have support while helping others during this difficult time.

• Identify high risk individuals.

• Contact parents/guardians of high risk students.

• Provide referrals for outside support (if indicated).

• Provide hot-line numbers to parents/guardians for after school hours (if necessary).

• Carefully document events.

• Consider open forum for parents (after school hours).

• Schedule follow-up by support personnel for high risk individuals.

• Schedule faculty meeting.

• Remain sensitive to how team members are being perceived..

V. Addressing the Media

❏ Develop a response—consider confidentiality, family wishes, liability of erroneous information.

❏ Designate a spokesperson—“No one else talks.”

• Designate an alternate spokesperson.

VI. Debriefing

• Review the events of the day.

• Revise the intervention strategies (e.g., plan for upcoming days).

• Monitor reactions of crisis team members. Be aware of “compassion fatigue.”

VII. Funeral

❏ Consider the wishes of the students’ family.

❏ Consider the wishes of the victim(s) family regarding attendance.

❏ Consider the age of the attendants.

❏ Consider the number of staff attending.

• Have support personnel available there.

VIII. Memorialization

❏ Consider appropriateness.

❏ Consider a method:

• a moment of silence

• a plaque

• planting a tree

• a dedication

• flying the school flag at half-mast

• Do not glorify self-destructive or violent behavior.


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