As schools across the country are closing their doors and sending students home, administrators should be thinking of how to continue supporting students and their families. The decision of closing schools, even for a short period, can present significant challenges, especially for low-income families.

Many students rely on school for basic resources like free meals and after-school programming. For some students, the safest place to be and the only time they have access to stable support is in school. As a result of school closure, students may be going without food, may be left unsupervised, or may be forced to spend more time than is typical in an unsafe environment. Further, parents or caregivers may be forced to take time off work and stay home with their child, leading to further financial burden; or if the parent can’t take off work, the student may be staying home alone unsupervised. Without steady income, students and their families may experience increased stress related to stable housing, access to food and other household items, or the ability to afford medical care should they need it.

In addition to financial burdens and reduction in access to basic needs like safe environments and food, school closings create a social vacuum for students. Social activities and interactions are critical components of student development and without them, children and adolescents may feel isolated or experience difficulties with mood and emotional health. Couple this with the general stress of the Coronavirus or family stress due to a reduction in or loss of income, students may experience significant mental health challenges, all without access to the counseling and other support resources typically available in school.

Schools should carefully consider how to address these challenges and provide support to students. Consider the following tips when attempting to mitigate the challenges posed by closing schools:

  1. Create a hotline: Set up a hotline, crisis phone number, or email by which students and/or their families can connect with a school administrator, case manager, or another support person to discuss access to local resources for food, shelter, medical needs, emotional health resources, etc.
  1. Offer web conferencing or telephone support: For students who meet regularly with the school counselor or another support person, transition these services to web-based via Zoom, Google Hangouts, or a similar platform. For those students who do not have access to technology that would support this effort, offer telephone appointments and support. In addition to providing continuity of care to those students already working with the support resources, be prepared to expand services to those students who may experience distress during school closure and require support. Many companies offer apps or other virtual platforms that provide remote support and resources for students.
  1. Provide resources to parents and families about emotional and mental health: As students will be spending more time at home, parents become even more critical in recognizing signs of distress in their students. Parents need information on what red flags to look for, how they can provide support, and when to refer to a professional. Check out NaBITA’s additional resource to provide guidance on this topic.
  1. Create opportunities for social interaction: Leverage technology resources that create opportunities for students to engage with each other to reduce the feeling of isolation and loneliness. Consider online trivia contests, chat rooms, virtual escape rooms, app-based connections, or other creative ways for students to engage in an interaction with each other. Be mindful that not all students have access to technology to support these platforms so it may also be helpful to create smaller groups for students to connect via phone conferencing in addition to web conferencing. Administrators should monitor and facilitate the virtual engagement to ensure interactions are appropriate, productive, and healthy.