Five Simple Ideas for – Handling student deaths
Written by Idea File Staff
It’s a fact of life – students die. So do teachers. It is an emotional time for any school. But for publication staffs, emotions cannot rule your decisions. Your staff needs a clear policy so that all school deaths are handled equally, avoiding questions of favoritism. To help you write or clarify your policy, consider these points from policies provided by Jim McCrossen, adviser at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kan., Christina Geabhart, adviser at Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Mo., and Jim Jordan, adviser at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, Calif.
1. Be tasteful and respectful.
Remember that the student was someone’s child and friend, or, if a faculty member, a spouse or parent. Be sensitive. That also means do not ignore it. If a deceased student will not be appearing anywhere in the book – no portrait, no candids, no clubs – that student should still be mentioned somewhere. One option is to list the student’s name, birth date and death date in bold in the index where the entry normally would be placed. This also could done for deceased students appearing in the book, but add the page numbers.
2. Run their portrait.
If available, place the person’s portrait in the appropriate section or class. Most staffs do this, regardless of when the student died during the school year.
3. Run a free memorial.
You could run the person’s name, birth date and death date in a staff-created memorial. Some schools use a quarter page for each memorial, while others use a half or full page and include every death. Make it clear in your policy where these will run in the book, for example, at the end of the advertising section.
4. Allow additional memorials.
This can be done several ways, always with adviser and editor approval of the content. Always state any costs involved.
- If the person was a senior, or during the year that person would have been a senior, you could allow friends and family to create memorials.
- You could allow memorials in the year the person died and their graduating year.
- You could allow one free memorial created by a parent. Make the parameters of this memorial clear. For example, is this for parents only, or any family member or friends? What size will it be? Will the parent create it or will the staff create it with parent-supplied photos?
5. Run a story.
When would a story be appropriate? At one school, the staff did a spread on a band fund-raiser for the family. At another school, students debated whether to hold the mock fatality accident in light of the death of a student in an accident. That discussion was part of the story. Care needs to be taken to make sure the article is tasteful and sensitive. Your staff can start this process by asking a number of questions:
- Why are we writing this story?
- Have I been fair in choosing my sources and in dealing with
- Have I been open and honest?
- Have I quoted my sources fairly?
- How uncomfortable do we want to make the reader?
Deadlines also affect the staff’s ability to run memorials or other items. Make sure a caveat about deadlines is listed in your policy.