Chapter 3: Planning for when a student’s family member has died

Contacting the bereaved family

What the educator says
Sue Massaad, elementary school principal, talks about making initial contact with parents following a death in a student's family.(3:22)Video transcript

“It somehow escaped us to make sure the school absence message didn’t go through to his parents. They were very upset to receive the automated call and I can’t help but feel we failed the family somehow in our support of their son’s death”. – Principal

As the principal or vice principal, you should make the initial contact with the family following the death of a student’s family member to create a plan for follow-up by a designated contact person. Below are some considerations you will want to keep in mind for your conversation with the family and also in planning for immediately after the death. 

Click on each box for more information.

Keep staff informedEnsure that all staff who are involved with the student, including coaches and other extracurricular supervisors, know the identity and role of the designated contact person. If a bereaved student is absent from school, ensure that all staff are aware of the reason.
The funeral or memorial serviceMany families will appreciate the presence of members of the school community at the funeral service or memorial; but always check with the family that this is the case. As an administrator, you should make a particular effort to attend any services for a student or teacher at your school.
Staff and student attendance at the serviceDevelop a plan for school coverage for staff members who would like to attend the service. If the family is open to students attending, a plan that facilitates this should be put in place and clearly communicated to all staff. Keep in mind that children of all ages benefit from being prepared to attend visitations, funerals, and memorials; and consider sharing resources on this topic with families.
Click on each item on the left for more detail