A trauma-informed approach when administering discipline requires that the impact of traumatic life experiences on stu-
dents’ behavior and home life be considered. For all students, the COVID-19 crisis has created a sense of danger and un-
certainty that can influence their behavior in different ways. During this time, connection and relationship should take priority

over discipline.
Students who have trauma histories, as well as those who are experiencing high levels of stress caused by the COVID-19
crisis, might be less likely to engage in opportunities for remote learning. Approaching these opportunities from a frame of
punishment—prioritizing rules and consequences for prohibited behavior—might discourage them even further. Educators
can create a safe and welcoming experience for all students by providing consistency and structure, praising students for
participation, and modeling a calm and nonjudgmental approach.

During this time, it is also important to reach out to those students who were having disciplinary issues prior to the pandem-
ic. Students who have ongoing difficulties regulating their emotions and behavior might require more support to engage in

remote learning during this time and to make the transition back to school in the fall.

Educators and school staff

Educators and school staff can consider the following strategies to promote a safe and respectful remote learning environ-
ment for all students:

  • Spend time talking with students about what is needed to create a safe learning environment. Let students take the
    lead, and consider issues such as comfort using video, ground rules for interacting online, etc.
  • Allow relationships and well-being to take priority right now. While it is important to hold high expectations for academ-
    ic work and appropriate behavior, students will fare best if they know their teachers care about their overall well-being.
  • Address academic and behavioral issues with empathy and support.
  • Address disciplinary issues outside of group and class meetings whenever possible, through one-on-one contacts with
  • Reach out to students who typically have behavioral issues at school, to ensure they are connecting with remote op-
  • Adapt restorative justice practices that have been used in the classroom to repair situations and relationships harmed
    by students’ behavior. It is more important than ever for every student to be able to trust and seek appropriate social
    support from one another during this time, and this might require intervention and mediation by school staff when
    students lack needed communication and problem solving skills.


Administrators can consider the following strategies during this time, as they balance discipline and accountability with a
trauma-informed approach during this crisis:

  • Consider how decisions about remote learning requirements will affect students who have experienced trauma, as
    well as those whose families are hard hit by COVID-19.
  • Establish consequences that are non-punitive and aim to support students in learning new behavioral skills, or at least
    provide clear pathways for appeal. Consider students’ life experiences and the potential for re-traumatization when
    applying consequences.
  • Offer supportive services to students who require frequent disciplinary actions, to address underlying causes of their
    behavior. Ensure that COVID-19-specific challenges are considered, including the family’s economic and healthcare
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to come together virtually and talk openly, in a confidential space, about their most
    challenging students—to brainstorm strategies that will work during this time and lay the groundwork for a successful
    return to school.