5141.61 - Dealing with The Effect Of A Death

Policy 5141.61


Dealing With The Effect Of A Death



A death in the school community has an impact on everyone. Since death is a part of life, educators are in a unique position to help students learn to cope with death in a healthy way.

The initial reaction to a death is often shock, particularly when the death is sudden or violent. Current literature and professional thinking emphasize 1) the need for an established plan and 2) a team approach for dealing with a school related death. These practices relieve any one person from having to take a total responsibility for handling a traumatic situation. Having a plan and a crisis team in place allows administrators and school staff to react more quickly and to deal more effectively with the impact of a death.

The primary goals of a successful plan are to:

•    facilitate communication 
•    encourage the healthy expression of feelings 
•    provide outreach and support to those in special need
•    identify students at risk 
•    help all students and staff deal with the reality of death in a positive way

The procedure outlined in this guide should serve as a base from which to work as each school develops an action plan that meets its specific needs. A plan should be flexible enough so that it can take into account the differences in each situation. Every school should have a crisis team in place which will then be activated whenever a crisis occurs.

Although this guide was developed to deal with a school related death, it can be adapted or applied to other traumas.

School Based Crisis Team

The school based Crisis Teams are flexible in structure. The Principal will chair each school based team, although another staff member may serve as the Chairman at the request of the Principal. The school based teams will be likely to have at least one counselor and the school nurse. Certified as well as non-certified staff, parents, students, and community members may join the teams where appropriate. There is no limit as to the number of members on the school based Crisis Team.

Staff-Wide Role

Although the Crisis Team and School Principal often play the most direct part in dealing with a school death, all other staff members have their roles, too. These include serving as a sounding board for student feelings and information, receiving and communicating helpful knowledge about student welfare, and acting as a role model for students. Staff members should stay alert over a period of time to the effect of a death, serious injury, or suicide attempt on students with whom they come in contact. The on-going role of the total staff is to help the school as a whole cope with the crisis situation.

Legal References:    Connecticut General Statues
            10-221(e) Boards of education to prescribe rules.

Policy adopted:    July 9, 2019    
NEWTOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Newtown, Connecticut 


Response Timeline for Student Death 

Immediately upon notification of death:
•    Talk to family about the information that they would like to be shared
•    Notify the Superintendent
•    Notify other principals in the district (encourage them to get their buildings’ support staff ready)
•    Notify the school’s PPS support staff
•    Notify the school’s staff/faculty
Domain Action/Considerations Details
Respect the family's wishes first

Initial message to family
Religious services
Visit to the home from administrators and
student's teacher.
  • Ask family about what they would like you to tell staff,
  • Make sure family is aware of and alright with your
    decisions, next steps
  • From administrators on behalf of the faculty
  • Find out if there are any prayer/religious services scheduled
    in the community
  • Let family know of your desire to visit them
    when the time is right
  • Ask them about their availability and wishes for this.
Next School Day After
the Death

Desk and personal belongings
Prepare for the return of student's siblings

Prepare a support plan for Student's classroom and teacher
Prepare a support plan for student's siblings' classrooms and teachers
  • Leave in place

  • Secure substitute coverage for teacher
Funeral/Wake Get details of wake and funeral from family

Coverage for staff

  • Ask family how they would like the details to be communicated, and to whom
  • Notify appropriate staff members of details
  • Find out who would like to attend the services and get staff sub coverage
Community Inform other schools in the district; other staff and families as a appropriate

Prepare for media inquiries
Email to parents

Outside activities the student was involved with (how will their death impact the great community)?

  • From administrators on behalf of the fuculty.
  • Include information on loss and grief, what is developmentally appropriate for their children
  • Notify parents of how the school will proceed in the coming school days, plan
  • Give parents contact information of PPS support staff
  • Create a list of parents/students that need to be told
    individually, before the general community email is sent.
  • Did the family attend religious services somewhere?
  • Was the student involved in any sports?
  • Was the student involved in any clubs (e.g. Cub Scouts, 4-H, etc?)
Bus Notify the bus company of student's death  
Student Support

Comfort dogs
Extra support staff

Create plan for days after death

Student support plan
  • As needed
  • Limit the number of unfamiliar faces in the school building
  • Notify the parents of every student who requires small
    group/individual support
  • Assign PPS staff to every classroom/grade level
  • Get extra PPS staff from the other buildings in the district,
    if necessary
  • Locate rooms where small group support an ocur with PPS Staff
  • Tiered level of approach
  • Tier 1: classroom discussion (developmental appropriate);
    classroom activity, depending on the closeness of the 
    class to the student; create script for how the teacher will
    open the discussion/what to say to the students
  • Tier 2: small group activity in another room
  • Tier 3: individual session with PPS staff
PPS Supports

Create efficient means of communication

Create a script for the teacher to use with the students to explain what happened

Create a list of parents/students that need to be told individually before general community email is sent
  • Group text chain (in school)
  • Get cell phone  numbers of team members

  • Utilize support staff (within building)
Personal belonings

Create a plan (in collaboration with parents) on what to 
do with students belongings
  • Do not remove belongings soon after the loss
  • After a week, clean out the contents of the desk but
    leave the desk, cubby, chair, etc in the classroom
  • Put belongings in a nice box (not a cardboard box) for
    the family when they are ready to receive it
  • Other items to give to parents; list of books the child checked out from the library, favorite books from the 
    classroom/library, card from the staff/students to the family, pictures students drew for the family, classroom work completed by the student, etc.
Memorialization Create a plan for how to remember the student
  • Ask the student's class/grade if they have any ideas
  • Include the family on the plans


Staff meeting

Generate a list of staff who will be most affected by the loss

Substitute coverage

Initial message to staff

Student's teacher and teachers of siblings
  • Info on grief and loss and developmental differences
  • Information on self-help/self-care for staff support groups of staff
  • Script for teachers on how to talk to classrooms (concrete verbiage)
  • Staff coverage
  • Plan for tiered PPS intervention supports, kids accessing support
  • Conversation about the layers of community's grief
  • Breakfast for staff
  • Reading interventionist, classroom teacher, paraeducator close to student, etc.
  • Make list of staff members available to cover a classroom teacher, if it is needed (including PPS supports to help
    emotionally support a room) 
  • Give subs walkie-talkies
  • Find out from family the details that they would like shared with the staff
  • Include information about the student's status/death
  • Notify them of staff meeting
  • Provide extra adult support in the room to assist them

Grief and Children

Ages 5-9:

Children between the ages of 5-9 begin to understand that death is permanent, although they do not always believe it is something that can happen to them. Children in this age group with a medical condition may be more likely to internalize that death can happen to them.

Ages 9-11:

Children between the ages 9-11 begin to understand that life is fragile and death can happen to them. Kids this age may be more interested in the details of things like cause of death, and the biological aspects of the causes of death.

School age children may show the following behaviors when learning about death: 
•    Crying or sobbing
•    Anxiety 
•    Headaches
•    Abdominal pain
•    Denial of death
•    Hostile reaction toward deceased person
•    Guilt

Adults can be help by:
•    Providing age appropriate information when questions are asked
•    Physically and verbally comforting students as appropriate – acknowledge their pain
•    Admitting that adults do not always know why certain things happen
•    Linking children and adolescents to counseling services as needed

Teens/Older Adolescents

Older adolescents/teens may have a much greater understanding of death than younger children. Therefore, they may exhibit visible signs of stress and depression when they are faced with loss, whether that is the loss of a family member, close friends, or other peer. Behaviors following loss may be characterized by:

•    Social isolation
•    Discomfort talking about the loss with another adult or outside counselor
•    Reliance on the internet of social media to “find answers” or seek comfort
•    Behavioral changes (acting out), substance abuse, or eating disorders
•    Strong emotions, such as sadness, answer, worry, or guilt
•    Physical reactions, such as having stomach aches or not sleeping 

Regulation approved:    July 9, 2019    
NEWTOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Newtown, Connecticut 

Inspiring Each Student to Excel

3 Primrose St., Newtown, CT 06470
Phone: 203-426-7600