Chapter 3: After a student’s death
“Most of the student already knew Malikai had died. News spreads fast these days. But a few students didn’t, and many had inaccurate information. So, it wasn’t so much that I was informing the whole class but rather that I was verifying the information and providing them with some tools for understanding and navigating their responses.” – Teacher
Once the death has been confirmed and all staff have been notified, students should be informed as soon as possible, such as at the first class of the day. Below are several best practice suggestions that will help you inform your students in the most sensitive and supportive way possible.
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Inform students in the security of a classroom with a teacher who they have regularly. This provides students with a safer space to process the information, ask questions, and express their thoughts and feelings.
Students should not be informed of the death in a large assembly or over the PA system.
As a teacher, you may be tasked with informing your students about the death of a student. Make sure that you’re clear about which information is to be shared. Your school’s administration should provide you with a written statement that outlines the basic facts about who died and the cause of death without going into too much detail.
Allow time for discussion and keep in mind that it’s okay not to have the answer to students’ questions. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Let students know that you appreciate their questions, even the ones you can’t answer.
If there are students or colleagues who you think may be particularly affected by the student’s death, check in on them and, if available, offer additional resources. Ensure vulnerable students are identified and provided with immediate support. Let administrators know of any students who may be considered particularly vulnerable at this time.
If the student who died had siblings in your school, ensure that all staff are aware and that there is a designated staff person who will maintain contact with them.
If any students are absent from school on the day when their class is being notified about the death, make a plan to ensure that they too are notified by a parent or teacher with whom they have a trusting relationship.
If there is a crisis/counselling team involved, your school should designate and organize a space for them to meet with students, teachers, and possibly parents. Have drinks, food, and tissues available.