After the unthinkable, a booklet helps schools with student death

Jan 13, 2023, 5:46 PM | Updated: 6:57 pm
The Utah State Board of Education building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020...
The Utah State Board of Education building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)
(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A new booklet from the Utah State Board of Education offers the latest guidance for teachers and other educators on how to deal with the aftermath at school when a student death occurs.

“Healing Our Schools After a Loss: A Toolkit for Schools Responding to a Suicide or Sudden Death,” is a 38-page booklet outlining basic procedures for the morning after a student death. It even offers multiple templates for making a statement to students in the classroom.

Educators meet the morning of with a “Crisis Support Lead” or USBE  Suicide Prevention Specialist to discuss the death, the family’s decision on whether to share the cause of death, and the school-day procedure.

The CRL will have previously confirmed the death with law enforcement and will contact the family to offer condolences and discuss what information they would like shared with the school.

When the school day begins, educators will read a statement at the same time in every class. The booklet includes multiple statement templates that vary depending on the information the family feels comfortable sharing with the school.

Statement templates are divided into the following categories:

  • When the death is a suicide, and the family is willing to share that
  • When the death is a suicide, and the family is willing to share that
  • When the cause is unconfirmed, is uncertain, or the family does not wish to
    disclose the cause of death
  • When the cause is unconfirmed, is uncertain, or the family does not wish to
    disclose the cause of death
  • When cause of death is unconfirmed; brief

Templates of letters to parents within the same categories are included.

Perhaps most importantly, the booklet outlines how to talk about the tragedy, acknowledge the death, and recognize and answer student questions in a way that will help students find healing in the classroom.

Utah schools have experienced six recent student deaths: five children in Enoch, Utah and a teen in Piute, Utah in the same week.

The booklet could also provide valuable resources for parents on how to talk to their kids about untimely deaths or suicide. It offers a list of do’s and don’ts when discussing the death with students:

DO be consistent in the ways you memorialize suicide and other losses. DO NOT have policies or traditions in place that you would not want to uphold for every student death. What is done for one, should be done for all.

DO allow monitored, time-limited memorials, if students desire.  DO NOT allow memorials that are permanent, disruptive to learning, or that glamorize suicide or the individual who died by suicide (e.g., posting pictures of the student throughout the school).

DO use messaging and memorials to rally around the cause of suicide prevention and encourage use of resources and positive coping. DO NOT participate in messaging or memorial activities that have a hopeless, blaming, or angry tone.

DO allow students who are immediately impacted an excused absence to attend the funeral. DO NOT hold the funeral or memorial service at the school; bus students to the funeral, or invite all students in the school to a funeral or memorial service.

DO represent the problem of suicide accurately; recognize that suicide is complex and multifaceted. DO NOT overstate the frequency of suicide, or oversimplify the causes of suicide as this may encourage blaming or hopelessness.

DO be honest about the struggles and strengths of the deceased and the tragic consequences of their early death. DO NOT turn the deceased into a saint or celebrity, or romanticize the way they died.

The full resource booklet can be found here.

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After the unthinkable, a booklet helps schools with student death