Trauma Response Plan for Death, Grief, Loss, Suicide & Trauma Issues: How families can expect the school district to respond

 There has been a great deal of research completed in recent years indicating how school districts should respond to death, grief, loss, suicide, and traumatic issues. Experts in grief and trauma have worked with us to help make sense of the research in the development of this plan. 

It is reasonable to expect that family members experiencing the emotion of a tragic loss may struggle to separate themselves from the loss to see how the event affects other students and teachers too, some with their own prior experiences with loss. This plan is intended to serve as a guide for families on what to expect from the school district after a tragedy. We are here to help in any way possible, within these confines. We want to do our best and will make every effort to assist family members within our capacity to do so at this time, and consistent with district policy.

We have spent considerable time preparing, researching, and training to do the right things in difficult times.

The loss of a student is a district loss, too. Your child has spent at least seven hours a day with us, and possibly many years. We travel the road of sorrow together, hoping this procedure will serve as your guide for support from the school district. This procedure allows us to assist you during your tragedy and at the same time do what is best for all the children who may have prior losses or suffering.

Loss incidents can be very far-reaching. They can affect the student body and staff in a massive way, and our school district may not set up to handle all the needs that can surface. It is our school district’s intent to base our response on qualified research, and not on our emotions. Each individual incident deeply affects school personnel, as well as the students and families. The district must consider the well-being of all the students and staff involved, in addition to the family it most affects. Research has taught us that a death incident recalls deep emotions and other prior death or loss incidents for many people. At times it can trigger their previous losses or other traumatic events, which can be revisited for individuals unrelated to the current loss. 

A death, grief, loss, suicide, or traumatic incident is a community incident, not a school district incident alone.
 We must join hands with our community in times like this and work together to assist those involved. As you move forward in this document, try to keep a community focus in mind. What we do from this time forward must involve our community partners in our plans to provide support through these trials together. The school district cannot become the answer for all the issues. 

This procedure is reviewed annually and updated as needed. The Grain Valley Schools Grief Committee utilized the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, the International Red Cross, Homeland Security, and many other agencies and individuals as resources in the development of this district procedure. We want to especially thank our own district committee for their diligent work and the gift of their time.

Our school counselors are a tremendous resource, but they cannot be the only support system. Death, grief, loss, suicide, and trauma of any kind leaves us all reeling, in an attempt to make sense of life, and the terrible tragedies it can deliver. There are no answers to these events that please everyone because each individual experiences them differently. As we face the tragedy life can deliver, we as a community must rally in response. None of us can handle it alone. Author Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and willingness to remain vulnerable.”

When a death, grief, loss, suicide, or traumatic experience occurs, there are stages of acceptance one must go through even to digest it. It is never easy. But with empathetic understanding and assistance, one can cope, even if it feels like you never will. This is a time for you to ask for help, and be willing to get counseling and support when needed from experts trained specifically in this experience. We as a community need the assistance of experts who come to us in many ways: the faith community, funeral home staff, grief counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and agencies specializing in grief and loss. The grief process is very different than general counseling. School counselors cannot carry the full load of responding to trauma without outside help. We need our community behind us also. School staff members are still required to have a regular school day during a tragedy. The school counseling departments have available a resource list of agencies and individuals that can assist others, based on their choice, not our recommendation. The district is grateful for them all. Your family insurance most often determines which support agencies and individuals you may use, so be sure to consult your insurance provider and find out if they are a fee-based support system and what your costs will be prior to using them. Some are free.

Expect to experience:

  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Blaming
  • Denial
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Pain
  • Shock

It will seem as if the world for everyone else goes on, but yours completely stops. You may experience feeling frozen in time, unable to breathe easily, or eat, or be yourself. It is very important to do the best you can to eat healthy foods, and hydrate yourself often with plenty of liquids. Avoid alcohol. As your emotions from your loss wreak havoc on your body and mind, you still have to do what is right for you to get through it, by taking care of yourself. Speak up about what seems best for you to others, but recognize their limitations. Seeking advice from family members going through the same loss may not be your best course. They too are suffering, and reacting emotionally, and may unintentionally guide you down wrong paths trying to help you during the crisis. Seek professional support when needed. It may be the best thing you do for yourself. Don’t be ashamed about asking for that help. It could be the smartest decision you make!

What to do and what you can expect from the school district:

1. Call your child’s school administrator/principal. That is the first step. Once the accurate information is received from the student’s custodial parent/guardian, that administrator will activate the district response effort. We cannot take third-person information. The school administrator will contact your child’s counselor, teachers, and coaches informing them. The school administrator will also notify the district superintendent. The superintendent may notify others such as the school board members. The superintendent will activate the district-wide Grief Team. The school administrator will be responsible to immediately empty the student’s locker/s and desk/s, and make arrangements to return personal effects to the parents/guardians. These personal effects will be housed by the school administrator in a secure area until such a meeting or pick-up occurs.

2. The Chairman of the Grief Team will contact the family within 24 hours of the district receiving notification from the school administrator/principal. The Grief Team Chairman will appoint a Grief Team Advisor assigned to assist the family. The Grief Team Chairman will notify you of who that person is that will be contacting you from their team within 48 hours. The Grief Team will coordinate assistance and respond to any questions you may need answered by the school or the school district. The Grief Team Advisor assigned by the Grief Team Chairman to assist your family will deliver your questions and respond with team answers to you as needed. This will be your contact person from the school district. Grief Team Advisors are specifically trained to assist the families suffering a tragedy. Other school staff will receive directions from them for contacting you. Be sure to express clearly how they can assist you. We want to respect your family’s privacy. Be sure to tell your Grief Team Advisor about family members or siblings who may also be affected in the school district, or attending or working in different schools. The Grief Team Advisor will contact those schools for you also, as needed. The Grief Team Advisor assigned to the family will be responsible for ongoing updates to the School Principal and the Grief Team Chairman. The School Principal is responsible to update their staff. The Grief Team Chairman is responsible to update the Superintendent and/or designees. The Grief Team Chairman may also activate additional Community Partners for other support requests as needed, after discussion with the Superintendent and the School Administrator/s. The Grief Team Advisor will provide a Support List of agencies to the family that may help the family in their crisis.

3. The district will inform the student body of community events such as Remembrance Candle Lightings or Balloon Memory Send Offs in parks, etc. in addition to Memorial or Funeral Services. This printed information will be available through school counseling centers or offices. Please provide your Grief Team Advisor with the information you want to be passed out in print. The general school district policy applies to all handouts and will need the same approval prior to distribution or posting. Remembrance events are most successful when inclusive and open to all. Families seeking to have such events need to go through the required official city or community channels for permits etc. for the parks or other locations with the representatives who regulate those sites. The school district cannot be responsible to host or supervise those events. For this reason, memorials cannot be held at the schools or on school grounds. The family’s Grief Team Advisor and the student’s School Administrator will be present, representing the school district. Other staff who wish to attend will do so on their own choosing.

4. If the student was a member of a sports or extracurricular team or group, those teams or groups need to work through both the Grief Team Chairman and the family’s Grief Advisor, representing the district, for any planning involving their team or group. Events involving the team or group will be treated as listed in section 3 and be held at public events, and not as a part of school activities. Any team or group requests will be handled on an individual basis determined as to their appropriateness, by the Grief Team, after Superintendent approval. The request for such needs will be handled in writing from the team or group sponsor to the Chairman of the Grief Team. It also needs Superintendent approval prior to all activities. This would include the wearing of uniforms and/or armbands at events or funerals etc. Coaches and sponsors are responsible to ensure this policy has prior approval from the Grief Team before their teams or groups take actions independently. The Grief Team Chairman will send requests to the Superintendent.

5. Tributes and Memorials

We want to assist you in appropriate ways for a school district to respond during this tragic time. Please recognize that we do have some limitations. Research has taught us that a death incident recalls deep emotions and other prior death or loss incidents for many people. While it may be comforting for some, visual remembrances can be more detrimental to the school or other individuals as a whole.

Graduation and related events: One scarf draped chair will be put in the student section of seating at graduation in honor of all lost students who attended Grain Valley High School.

Yearbooks: The student’s picture will remain with his/her class in the school’s yearbook. Causes of death or tributes will not be included. The district seeks to honor all deceased students in a dignified way and cannot provide individual tributes, which are better served during the funeral process.

Parking Spots and Lockers: Will be made available for reassignment.

In closing, we want to honor all students appropriately. For any concerns or specifics please work through your district Grief Team Advisor & Grief Team.

Please refer to Board Policies and Procedures JHD, KG, JHD-AP2 for additional information.

Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2024 SchoolMessenger Corporation. All rights reserved.