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

Planning ongoing support for bereaved students


What the educator says
Sue Massaad, elementary school principal, talks about making accomodations to help a grieving family.(3:22)Video transcript
Sue Massaad, elementary school principal, talks about meeting the individual needs of the grieving student and family. (3:22)Video transcript

When he returned to school after his brother died, I made a point of checking in with him when there weren’t other students around during which I asked his permission to continue checking in with him every now and then moving forward.   He was open to this and I’m glad he was because initially he really didn’t want to talk about it but as time passed, he opened up more and more”.   – Principal

Because grief is an ongoing process, it’s important to give thought to how you and your staff can support a bereaved student in the weeks, months, and even years after a death. Based on interactions with the family, develop and follow a plan that meets the family’s needs and is sustainable from your school’s – and your – perspective. 

The designated contact person should work with the family and student to determine the student’s support needs upon returning to school. As an administrator, you should develop a plan that includes various considerations. 

To view these, click on each of the tabs below.

For the student

• When and how will the student return to school? (How soon? Full-time?)

• How will the student be kept current with their learning? (Older students can be appointed to copy and share their daily notes according to a schedule suitable to the grieving family.) 

• Establish expectations, and plan around missed tests and exams.

• Create a safe place for when the student returns to school, along with a plan of how they can get there and who will go with them.

• Invite the student to come to you directly if they are struggling and want to talk etc. 

For staff

• Remind staff that the student may struggle to concentrate for some time. 

• Hold a meeting for educators, support staff, and school counsellors who are (or may be) directly involved with the student so a plan can be formulated to ensure the grieving student receives support that can be individualized to their needs. In some situations, the student’s parent(s) may benefit from attending.  

• Ensure that the family is aware of local grief support resources (e.g., bereavement groups, grief camps, counselling, etc.) 

For administration

• Record the death of an immediate family member in the student’s education record. Include the date of death so that staff are alerted to the time of year around the death anniversary, which may be particularly difficult for the student. 

• Ensure that at the start of each school year, the student’s new teacher is made aware that the child has had a death in their immediate family, as well as the date of the death.

• Develop an additional communication plan that is respectful of the family’s and student’s wishes. This can be used if the student transfers to another school. (Transfer of student records may be delayed, or they may not be read.)