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ASHA Guidance: Reopening Schools and Possible Safety Strikes Related to COVID-19

ASHA strongly supports members in making decisions that prioritize the safety, health, and well-being of themselves, their families, and the students they serve.

Concerns raised by ASHA members about returning to school are completely understandable. While we want children back in school, the pandemic has complicated their return. Serious questions about the availability of appropriate protections, safe environments, and sufficient resources persist. We know many ASHA members are worried about returning to school and rightly so.

Uncertainty, stress, concerns for students and your own safety, along with other unrelenting challenges confront not only school-based members, but also ASHA members generally. Though we wish we could lift those burdens entirely, we are no less committed to lightening them significantly—in our advocacy, the professional resources we provide, and our sincere willingness to listen to members’ concerns.

Although ASHA is not a union and does not have the authority to advocate in the manner of one, ASHA is doing everything we can within the scope of our ability to help. The 2021 Public Policy Agenda prioritizes schools adhering to evidence-based public health policies that support a safe working environment, such as the provision of adequate and appropriate personal protection equipment, flexible working hours, additional paid sick leave, and telepractice technologies to support distance learning. ASHA continues to advocate for meeting objectives like these.

It is an unavoidable reality that school systems can mandate staff to return how and when they see fit. Consequently, ASHA members are advised to become fully informed now about their professional and ethical obligations regarding a return to school mandate. We are here to support you as you navigate through this critical juncture.

We recognize that some school districts are not offering the flexibility and safety precautions to address any concerns with resuming in-person service delivery. In the event that a strike or walkout occurs in your district, the information below is intended as general guidance to help you get through this extraordinary time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We strongly recommend that you seek specific guidance from your local school and school district leaders, union representative (if applicable), state licensing board, and state speech-language-hearing association.

Review Your School District’s Reopening Plan

ASHA is tracking school reopening plans [PDF] nationwide. See what strategies your state has put into place and learn how to contact your state department of education or your local school district for additional information.

Considerations for School-Based Members

School staff should follow state and local guidelines for reopening schools. ASHA has developed a list of things to for you to consider when resuming services in schools during COVID-19.

Questions to Ask School Decision Makers/Administrators

Find a list of questions for educational audiologists and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to help facilitate conversations with administrators in your school district about resuming in-person service delivery safely.

Notification Responsibilities

If schools do not open or close as a result of a strike or walkout, school districts are responsible for notifying families.

Ethical Obligations

Not all situations are the same, so we recommend reviewing ASHA’s Code of Ethics. ASHA’s Issues in Ethics on Client Abandonment recognizes that, “[p]otential disruptions in clinician–client relationships may ... occur as the result of a school strike,” and provides the following guidance:

If a district makes the decision to close schools because of a strike, this temporary lack of services would not be construed as client/student abandonment by the audiologist or speech-language pathologist (SLP). If schools remain open during a strike, the audiologist or SLP should ensure that parents are notified that their children may not receive services as scheduled. (Whether FAPE [free appropriate public education] has been denied as the result of a missed session is to be decided on a case by case basis. The school district is responsible for addressing parent concerns.

Legal Obligations

If you are concerned or unclear about the legal obligations in your employment contract, consider seeking an attorney with expertise in employment issues.

Making Up Missed Sessions

If there are missed sessions during the strike or walkout, parents may ask for those services to be made up or to receive compensatory services. While the school district is responsible for addressing those concerns, you may be asked to provide services for missed sessions so familiarize yourself with the district’s policy. Review ASHA’s resource on missed sessions in schools to learn more. 

Find more resources on physical and virtual school reopening for educational audiologists and school-based SLPs.

ASHA Staff Contacts

We are here to help with any questions you may have. Contact ASHA’s School Services Team or ASHA’s Audiology Practices Team at audiology@asha.org.

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