Guidelines for Administrators Concerning the Death of a Student or Staff Member
When the death of a student or staff member occurs, it is important to have a plan for follow up after the immediate response. The LPS Crisis Team is available to assist administrators, counselors, social workers, and psychologists with developing a plan to support students and staff.
There will also be decisions that need to be made regarding how to help students memorialize their classmate or teacher in a safe and respectful way that promotes recovery, hope and positive action. Those decisions need to be respectful of maintaining the original nature of school events such as concerts, graduation, sports events, etc. – making sure the rights of all students are honored.
Balancing the desire to honor and remember a valued student or colleague with concerns for the emotional well-being of all students and staff within a building can be challenging. An activity that seems like an appropriate tribute to a friend for some, may have the effect of glorifying death for others. These guidelines are intended to lay a foundation on which to base decisions.
The two primary considerations should be the issue of equity and care not to glorify a death. It is important to take a long view and remember two basic principles:
What is done for one individual is done for all. There must be equal treatment regardless of economic status, race, ethnic background, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, mental, physical or linguistic ability, level of involvement in school activities, or popularity. There must also be equal treatment regardless of how the student or staff member died (e.g. from suicide, illness, or accident).
Never do anything that makes death seem like a good option. Permanent memorials, school assemblies, early dismissals, funerals held at school, plaques, or pages in a yearbook may seem to glorify death.
The school is encouraged to work with student or parent groups and offer suggestions regarding other community venues appropriate for memorial events if a student or parent group wishes to facilitate one.
Activities sponsored by the school should focus on the bigger picture of education, awareness, recovery, and support rather than focusing on the individual – as an example instead of a fundraiser for the family of a child with leukemia or a candlelight vigil for a student who died of leukemia, it would be appropriate to sponsor a fund-raiser for leukemia research.
Schools are encouraged to offer an opportunity for students and staff to express their sympathy to the family. Placing a banner, poster, or card in a semi-private location (such as the counseling center or the main office) where students or staff may choose to come to sign would be appropriate. Lockers can be a place where students create impromptu memorials – you may find it helpful to place a staff member near the locker to direct students to the appropriate location to express their grief. Make a plan to deliver the condolences to the family within a few days of the funeral.
Regulation 3997.2 regarding student and staff memorials can be found in the 3000 series of the district policies and regulations.
The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers these guidelines for Responding to the death of a student or staff member.
School Publication Guidelines
When a student or staff member dies there are often questions about how they should be remembered in the school yearbook or other school publication. The following points are important:
- Yearbooks are tributes to the accomplishments of students made during their academic careers, not to the way in which they died. Therefore it is not recommended to create a Memorial Page for anyone in the school yearbook. This is due to the two basic principles:
- What you do for one, you do for all
- Never do anything that makes death seem attractive.
- It is inappropriate to dedicate the school yearbook or other publication to a deceased student or staff member.
- It is appropriate to include a deceased student or staff member picture in the yearbook. The student/staff member’s picture should be included in any appropriate sections.
- In the event a group of students does something special or significant to promote respect, recovery, and positive action while working through grief, it would be appropriate to include an article regarding that in the yearbook.
Schools are sometimes pressured to dedicate functions such as a sports event, banquet, or concert to a deceased student or staff member, or to observe a moment of silence in their memory. It is not recommended to dedicate any activity to the deceased including a moment of silence.
In the case of a senior who dies before graduation, recommendations for the ceremony include:
- No empty chair during the ceremony
- No moment of silence or other dedication should be made in remembrance of the student
- If the deceased senior completed all of the requirements for graduation, it is permissible to print their name in the program and to present their diploma to a family member who might choose to receive the diploma during the ceremony. These details should be discussed with the student’s family to determine how they wish to proceed.