PROTOCOL
For
SCHOOL COUNSELOR* RESPONSE TEAMS
(Document created by Martha Garrett June, 2002)
Almost every day, somewhere within the state, a Mississippi Public School will deal with a
tragic event. At any time a student death, car accident, suicide, teacher death, terrorist
attack, bio-terrorism, bus accident, bomb threat, or some other event can occur that
requires counseling and the possible need for additional help from outside the school. Local
administrators and school counselors must know what to do immediately.
This
“suggested” protocol or procedural guide should provide structure and uniform methods
for school counselors as they handle crisis/disasters/tragedies in school settings.
Contained in this guide are suggestions for school counselors to use during crisis events
within their own school, as well as when they are responding with a team in a neighboring
school. School counselors can benefit from the question that follow whether they are
working alone, with a group of school counselors, or with a larger response team comprised
of law enforcement, medical groups, and community agencies.
NOTE: *The term “School Counselor” mentioned throughout this guide refers to a person who has a Master’s
Degree in Guidance and Counseling. All Mississippi public school counselors are now required by law (Senate
Bill 2441, effective July 1, 2002) to have this Master’s Degree
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WHAT CONSTITUTES A CRISIS OR DISASTER?
In the 1998 training guide published for school counselors, When Tragedy Strikes in Your
School…. What Will You Do?. A good definition of a crisis was given by Larry Little
(educator, counselor, administrator). Mr. Little stated that a crisis exists when there is the
perception of an event or situation as being intolerable, exceeding the resources and coping
mechanisms of the individual. Situations occur in Mississippi schools on a regular basis that
are considered small or large and that involve one person or perhaps many people. An
individual’s reaction to a specific event determines whether a crisis exists or not. (In lay
terms, a crisis for one person may or may not be for another.)
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An incident might involve only one or two person but be tragic those two.
Another incident might affect an entire school or community and involve crisis response
teams including law enforcement, medical personnel, city/state government, school
personnel, mental health, and agencies like Red Cross.
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE SITUATION?
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Consider the numbers of people affected by the tragic incident.
Prepare a quick assessment of peers affected: faculty/staff, students, and school such as
sports teams, band/music, and homerooms.
Consider the locations of these persons: high school building, middle school and/or
elementary building.
Will you need someone at one or more of these areas?
How many grade levels are in need of assistance?
What is the school population?
How many homerooms might need a counselor?
Consider other factors like statewide testing.
Will you need to reschedule testing for one student or for many students?
Counselors may not be able to leave their own school to assist in another during this
crucial time.
Decide whether you can handle immediate counseling needs for today and/or tomorrow.
Are these enough counselors at your building or within your district to handle individuals,
small student group or several groups at one time? Many times you may need to counsel
only one student and/or one teacher which can be handled “in house.”
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Can counseling be handled “in house”?
Will you need other “district” counselors?
Do you need to go outside your district for the additional counselors?
Do you need elementary/high school counselors? How many?
Has the incident occurred during statewide testing?
WHICH DAYS (date/time) WILL YOU NEED ADDITIONAL COUNSELORS?
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Consider when the event happened.
Consider when students will return to the school.
Was the incident during the day at school (more people observed)?
Was this on the way home on the bus or at night?
Are students still at school for several hours and need assistance now?
Will you need to meet with students at the start of tomorrow’s class day?
What time?
When will the principal and you meet with faculty to explain the counseling plans and go
over basic facts?
Incidents that occur during a weekend, holiday, or spring break will make communication
more difficult.
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Make a decision quickly. You make need to activate the “call list” for faculty within your
local school if the incident is after school hours. Your school administrators would need to
assess the situation and decide whether the greater community/emergency/crisis team is
needed.
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Do you need counselors right now (within the hour)?
Will you need counselors after the weekend?
After the holidays?
When will your school administrators meet with faculty/staff to discuss facts and
plans?
When and where will your first counseling session with students begin?
WHEN SHOULD SURROUNDING AREA COUNSELORS RESPOND?
Generally the local district will request help if a situation cannot be handled “in house.”
Often administrators will call within their district first and then to neighboring school for
those closest in distance. Also many of the counselors living a few miles already know these
students and families. Don’t forget crisis trained retired counselors.
The local school often requests help. They may call locally and/or may ask MDE to provide
assistance.
 MDE may send a request for counselors to respond.
 If the tragic event affects an entire school (students/faculty) and perhaps a whole town is
shocked, additional counselors will be needed.
 Large numbers of students may need counsel. Please don’t forget bus drivers, secretaries,
cafeteria and maintenance workers who may need assistance. Any of these may have
been witnesses to the incident, friends, or relatives.
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WHO CALL THE AREA COUNSELORS?
Call may go out from local administrator, local counselors, MDE, and others, the call should
include basic facts, time and place to meet (include directions and phone number of that
school building), and hopefully give the counseling team leader’s name. Remember that the
local school personnel are in charge. If they cannot handle “being in charge” then another
administrator needs to be selected. The counseling “team leader” will work with local
counselors at the school and the local administration and/or designated other administrators.
Be sure that local administrators have requested the assistance. Keep those school counselors
at the building/affected included in all plans.
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Local Counselor or Principal or Superintendent may place calls.
MDE Counseling Coordinator (at the request of the local district or per request of the
Office of Safe Schools) may call key people in an area to respond.
Set timelines via phone for next day (or that afternoon, if needed)
Get/Give directions to school and phone numbers and phone number of counseling “team
leader.” (Do as much as possible with one phone call.)
Maintain close contact with your local counselors and administrators throughout the
entire event.
HOW IS THE COUNSELING TEAM LEADER SELECTED?
When several school counselors are needed, it is important to select one “team leader” to
coordinate activities for the visiting counselors. This person should be experienced in handling
crisis situations and available. Mississippi Counseling Association Regions (there are ten)
provide an excellent system for coordinating team leaders. The Mississippi Counseling
Association works closely with MDE in providing experienced counselors who are always ready
to respond in times of need.
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For your “team leader,” select a school counselor with experience in handling crisis
events. Each group of counselors, small or large, which responds to a school’s request
must designate someone to be in charge.
Select a “team leader” who has prior permission from his /her administration to respond
when needed.
Select two/three persons in each MCA Region who could effectively serve as “team
leader”. Could possibly need more than one at the same time.
HOW WILL YOU HANDLE TERRORISM?
Threats of various kinds are possible at any school on any given day. Survey your local
geographic area for “high risk” things such as:
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Railroads/chemical spills, airports/crashes
Hazardous materials, storage tanks
Oil refineries, water systems
Nuclear power plants, coastal area/boats
Military bases, NASA
Smallpox, Anthrax, and others
Another very real threat is the suicide bomber who could appear on:
 Busses, in school buildings, auditoriums, stadiums, and other school properties.
 Search for “high risk” areas near your school where terrorists might attack.
 Talk with local community agencies (government, health, law enforcement) about
possible threats.
WHAT DO VISITING COUNSELORS DO?
Each member of a school counselor response team shoulders great responsibility to
students and staff during a crisis event. They must work with local counselors and
administrators. Counselors must be organized in their efforts- get into the school, perform
necessary duties, and get out. They must exhibit professionalism in all activities and with
all students and staff. During and after crisis situations the goal is to prevent posttraumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), to assist students/staff in returning to a state of
normalcy where each one can function in day to day activities, and where students can
continue learning.
Basic steps will need to be covered in every crisis/tragedy where school counselors are
asked to respond. These steps are listed below, in sequence, from the time a request for
assistance is made until the last debriefing with the school counselor response team.
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BEFORE ARRIVAL AT THE SCHOOL
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Request for help is received
School counselors in the area assist in calling each other (call list).
MDE assists in locating school counselors.
Request permission from your own administrators to respond to the call.
Discuss this possible need with your building principal and/or other appropriate
administrators at the beginning of the school year. Discuss the “Protocol Guide” so that
everyone understands. This will make things go smoothly during a crisis event.
Remember your own school may need assistance at some point.
Designate team leader. This person will make all calls to local counselor/s and principal
to make necessary arrangements and then will alert response team. All members of the
response team should not be calling the school.
Work with local administrators/counselors for planning counseling sessions. Be sure they
are involved in all activities that will take place on this campus. (Remember they know
the students on their campus best.)
Try to schedule sessions with students as soon as they arrive at the building. Waiting
several hours to talk with students contributes to rumors and the escalation of fears.
When incidents occur during the day and counseling is scheduled for the following
morning, be sure to advise the local school administrator/counselor to give basic facts to
students/faculty/staff before they dismiss for the day. Again, many rumors and fears are
minimized when basic facts are made known.
Get the date/time/location/phone number of building where you will meet. Ask where
you should park. (Do not be late!)
Each response team member should take his/her “crisis briefcase/bag.” Prepare ahead of
time a bag or briefcase containing items you might need such as: notebook/notepad,
pen/pencil, “Counseling Strategies” – Fig 13, Mississippi map, pocket change or $2-$3
for coke/nabs during the day, lists ideas to assist in debriefing students of all ages, call list
of counselors. You may want to include a box of tissues. Ladies, consider leaving your
purses locked in the car and keep keys in your bag along with your cell phone (that is
turned OFF).
ALWAYS WEAR OUR PERSONAL NAME BADGE
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Preferably picture ID with your name and school. The local school may request that
you add a “visitor’s badge” as well, but attach it to your ID badge. School personnel will
need to know who is on their campus at all times. (Do not forget your name badge!)
AT THE SCHOOL:
 Early meeting at Office of Principal or Counselor with entire response team. This could
be 7:00 – 7:15, before students arrive for the day. Teachers/staff should be informed of
plans for the day, all basic facts regarding the incident, and a bell schedule for the day.
 Get the facts straight. Dispel rumors. Principal or spokesperson for the school may want
to write a “statement” with facts so that all team members, faculty, have some
information to share with students. Get the name of the school spokesperson. Remember
these things need to be done before students arrive.
 A sign in sheet provided by the response team leader. This should include each team
member’s name, home school and address/phone. You may also need to sign a visitor’s
log for the local school. The “team leader” will coordinate efforts for the day.
 Room assignments…Library team…Other locations (homerooms, classes where there are
“empty chairs”)
 Assign “rover” to monitor halls and bring students to counseling sessions throughout the
day as needed. This person might need to be a local teacher/counselor/nurse who known
the students.
 In death situations be prepared to deal with “empty chairs”, personal articles/clothing of
the deceased, lockers, etc.
 Be sure that the teacher is always present during debriefing with students. No student
should leave the classroom alone.
 When teachers need debriefing, place one counselor in classroom (as substitute only)
while another works with teachers at another location. Debrief students first.
 Be sure that local administrators, counselors also receive counseling at sometime during
the day. Remember they are busy helping to coordinate efforts and might be overlooked.
They may also tell you “I am okay,” Be aware of these persons.
NO COMMENTS TO THE MEDIA
 Refer all media personnel/questions to local school spokesperson. (School board policy?)
Law prohibits students talking to media.
 Team leader will update response team members of pertinent information as needed.
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Debriefing
Debrief (see fig. 13 – Counseling Strategies) throughout the day with students and
teachers (state facts, dispel rumors, console, and comfort; allow appropriate conversation
and venting of feelings, end session with positives and reassurances).
Record and report to your team leader and resident counselor/principal any significant
information throughout the day (needs for continued counsel) (significant comments of
students or staff) (possible danger to self or others). Remember that crisis situations often
trigger more underlying/existing problems.
List of “at-risk” students that may need follow-up counseling.
REMEMBER CONFDENTIALITY AND ETHICS:
 When working with groups of students/faculty, be sure to inform them at the start of the
session that comments made during the group session must not leave the room. You,
however, will need to discuss “issues” with local administrators which pose threats,
danger, harm to an individual and/or others.
 Work quickly (usually within a class period) so that students can return to next class
when the bell rings. You do not want students roaming the halls. The “rover” can help
with this as well.
 Team leader will report to local administrators/counselors at close of the day (or before,
if situations arise needing immediate attention).
 Debrief each other at close of counseling or at end of the day.
 Plans for next day/session if needed
 Follow-up with your school counselor response team members to make sure their needs
are met.
WORKING WITH OTHER AGENCIES
 The size and magnitude of tragic events will dictate whether the entire community is
involved in the disaster response.
 The local school may be the focal point or perhaps may be just one part of a large team
effort in those cases.
 Agencies such as law enforcement, public health, hospitals, emergency management
teams (state/federal), fire department, public officials, Red Cross, Mental Health
(both clinical and regional) might all participate. In such cases, a designated “director”
would be appointed to coordinate efforts.
 Most city/county areas already have plans in place for disasters including bio-terrorism.
Most school districts have plans now which include these agencies as well. School
counselors would likely be assigned to serve where they work best, with students at the
school site, or another designated location if the school was damaged. Just be aware that
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there is a “big picture” involving many agencies during disaster. School counselors will
be ready and able to serve as needed.
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Protocol - Mississippi Department of Education