Chapter 4: Planning for when a student is dying

Informing students


What the educator says
Sue Massaad, elementary school principal, talks aboout respecting a family's privacy following a death.(3:22)Video transcript

“Our principal had provided us with written information and facts. This helped so much because in the midst of my own shock and grief, I could barely get the words out to tell my students that their classmate had been hit by a car during the lunch break”. – Teacher

The following strategies will help you in contacting and working with the family. 

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Notify students in smaller groupsNotifying students in smaller groups, such as within their homerooms, allows for more personal discussions about grief with staff who are usually better known to the students. This also provides an opportunity for dialogue with classmates and is often a safer place for students to display their emotions.
Avoid using the public announcement systemAvoid making an announcement of the death over the public announcement system or in a large group assembly. It doesn’t allow for a great deal of discussion or individual support, and it can be overwhelming for students to learn the news in such an environment.
Designate space for crisis counsellingDesignate and organize a space in the school for a crisis or counselling team to meet with students, teachers, and parents (if applicable). Have drinks, food, and tissues available.
Notify absent studentsGive thought to notifying any students who are absent from school. Their parent(s) should be asked to communicate this in person.
Provide teachers with a written statementProvide teachers with a written statement that outlines the basic facts about who died and how they died without going into too much detail. This doesn’t need to be a script; it just needs to outline the information to be shared with their class. For example:

• Name of student.

• Their age and/or homeroom.

• How they died*. (See examples below.)

• Information about funeral or service, if available.

* Examples of brief, factual information about the cause of death: “In a boating accident”; “from leukemia”; “by suicide”.
Be honest when you are unable to share cause of death

If the cause of death is unknown or if the family is unwilling to share details:

• “We’re not sure what happened”.

• “The family is requesting privacy around the details of the death at this time”.

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*Be sure that the student’s family has agreed to the sharing of whatever information you provide to your teachers.