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Dealing with the Death of a Student or Educator

There will always be loss. All across the country, students will at some point face the death of a loved one or peer. The death of an educator or student is traumatic, and no one in the school will get over it immediately. So, long-term support must be set in place to help colleagues and students who take the death especially hard.

Plan of Action

It’s important to have a plan for verification and notification when someone dies so that administrators and educators are prepared to deal with the crisis before alerting students. In the following order, schools should:

Verify the death.

Notify the school crisis team, and create a plan of action.

Notify educators and staff before telling students. This is an important step. Educators and staff need to meet and discuss what they know about the situation (such as what the relatives of the person who has died want to be reported) and how they are feeling about it. It also gives staff the opportunity to seek counseling before talking to students.

Notify students face-to-face. Students should be divided into small groups before being told what has happened. In large groups, there may be too much of a shock, and a student who is having particular difficulty in dealing with the news could be overlooked. If an educator has died, another educator who knows that educator’s students should inform them of the news and remain in the classroom for several days. Additionally, a statement for educators should be prepared and disseminated before any students are informed of the news; this will help ensure that all educators have the same information in the same wording. It takes a lot of pressure off of any educators who are uncertain about how to inform their students.

Notify parents. A notification letter should be written and given to students to take home to their parents. In addition to notification of the death, this letter should provide information about the services that are being offered to students and parents. Comfort parents by letting them know that everything is under control and that students have support services at their disposal.

Resources

National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement: www.cincinnatichildrens.org/school-crisis.

The PowerPoint presentation by Schonfeld and Gurwitch, below, is a great resource to use if you need a means for recruitment of a crisis team or a quick resource guide to handle a crisis. Also, Schonfeld has additional research referenced below.

Dealing With Death at School, by Scott Poland and Donna Poland, Principal Leadership, April 2004. This article is recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists.