In the unfortunate circumstance that a student or faculty member dies, having a detailed plan prepared and in place will empower staff and support students and families during that sensitive time period.
The first step in your plan is to disseminate information to the community. Most schools utilize an email system now and you can have a template ready to use to inform families that a death has occurred. If funeral information is available you can share that with the family’s permission. It is advisable to include information about the cause of the death and suggest that the parents or guardians be truthful with their children, using age-appropriate language.
If your school district has a crisis response team, the members should be equipped to support you in the immediate aftermath of the death. They will help the children process the news of the death and triage children who need 1:1 attention. Every death can be considered a tragedy or crisis for the family involved, even if the circumstances of the death are not related to violence.
If you do not have a crisis response team, you can reach out to your local grief support center, family counseling center or create a team of therapists trained in crisis response with children.
For some districts, including Los Angeles Unified School District, OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center collaborates with the crisis response team to provide grief counseling to the children most directly impacted by the death as opposed to those that are reacting to the news but aren’t grieving the end of a relationship they had with the person who died.
Short term grief support groups can offer the grievers at your school a chance to express their thoughts and feelings with others their age who have experienced the same loss. The group will also prepare the children to participate in mourning rituals and teach coping strategies to use both in the present and in the ensuing weeks and months.
OUR HOUSE can also provide handouts such as: Explaining Death to Children, Preparing Children for Mourning Rituals, Ways to Support a Grieving Friend and Explaining Homicide (or Suicide or Overdose) to children which can be shared with families and faculty.
A classroom that has experienced the death of a student or teacher also benefits from a one-time visit by a grief specialist who can lead the children in a discussion about the cause, normalize their grief responses, and help them share memories of the person. They can also discuss ways they can support the impacted family members and each other.
Lastly, schools can hold a mourning ritual on campus. Rituals range from “a moment of silence” to a candlelight vigil to a tree or plaque dedication. These rituals offer an opportunity to offer the support of the community as the members start their grieving process.
Click below to download the 8 page guide for Teachers and Faculty.