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It is not unprecedented that a teacher, school employee, or student may die when school is not in session; summer break is one example. The difference now, of course, is that we can’t gather in person to honor the life and commemorate the loss of someone in our school community. The need for physical distancing does not require social separation. There are numerous actions and activities that schools and parents can take to provide opportunities for children and teens to recognize and mourn those who die during this quarantine period.

Most school policies on responding to the death of someone in their community likely have not considered how to adapt those policies when school might still be technically in session, but not in person. Whatever you call the current schooling options – online, virtual, remote, or distance learning – none of these modes are particularly conducive to collectively memorializing a deceased friend, peer, teacher, or other school staff. However, existing policies and procedures can be adapted for this new reality, and here are some options to consider:

Zoom, Facebook Livestream and/or Videoconference Remembrance Sessions

All of these platforms pre-date COVID-19 and the current restrictions about gathering in groups of more than 10 people. Numerous folks have used them for live-streaming memorial or funeral services when family members could not attend due to cost, distance, or health reasons. Schools can use this technology, in coordination with the wishes of the family of a deceased teacher, student or school staff member for all in the community to gather, albeit remotely.

Video Clips

All smart phones have video capability, and in the face of our inability to meet face-to-face, we can still communicate to each other, to family members, and to our larger school community in sharing thoughts and reminiscences after the death of someone in our community.

Write and Draw

Even if virtual opportunities are offered, parents can help their children participate and honor a deceased teacher, friend, or school staff member by having them write memories, draw pictures, and share these on-line and/or with the family of the deceased.

Have your Own Small Remembrance Service

If there is no opportunity to participate in rituals through the family’s plans, and your child’s school doesn’t take the initiative to respond to the death, you can still take have your own remembrance ceremony or service in your home. It may be as simple as lighting a candle and sharing memories about the person who died. You can write a letter together to the family of the deceased, especially since they are grieving both the death and the inability to gather with others for connection and community support.

Despite the challenges presented by physical distancing, the worst thing we can do is to do nothing. Families will appreciate every gesture of kindness; and we are showing our children that in the face of considerable odds, we will find ways to honor and remember those who die during this time of forced separation.


Donna Schuurman, EdD, FT
Sr.Director of Advocacy & Training, The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families
www.dougy.org

untitled-design-8CJ Huff, Former Superintendent of the Joplin, MO Schools, shares Part 2 of his blog series on building relationships in the school community, focused on reaching outside the school to strengthen our schools. Click here to review part 1

Over the past 20 years I have had the opportunity to work with community partners in a variety of capacities. I have also learned that among school districts, buildings, and classrooms, school/community partnerships range from open door to appointment only. No question–there has to be a balance–but I believe it is important to err on the side of inclusiveness whenever possible.

Schools give many reasons for keeping the community at arms length. Security, fear the school day will be disrupted, legal liability, and concerns about confidentiality are often at the top of the list. Each of these issues is legitimate, but not insurmountable. Developing well-defined parameters for community involvement are important. But it is also important to keep in mind that there are many wonderful people in your community wanting to help, if given the opportunity.

A mistake schools often make is asking for support (usually financial) only when we need it. There have been few times in my career that a local business or organization didn’t step up and help during those times. However, the message we are sending can easily be interpreted as, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

There are many benefits of engaging the community in the schools. At a site level, new resources are brought to the table. When parents, educators, businesses, human service agencies, and churches (Yes…they can be involved too AND it is legal.) sit down together at the same table to talk about kids, good things happen. A few thoughts to consider…

  1. The Sleeping Giant: Faith-based organizations are mission driven and full of individuals who are seeking ways to give back to the community. Does this mean they will be preaching to the kids at school. No. That isn’t legal. But as a local minister in Joplin put it, “We know we can’t be the voice of God in our schools, but we can be the hands and feet of God by supporting our children and educators.” I often refer to faith communities as “The Sleeping Giant.” When given the opportunity they will respond quickly to the needs of the school. No questions asked.
  1. Treasure: I learned quickly that treasure doesn’t necessarily mean monetary resources. In fact, some of the best “treasures” that have been brought to the table are not monetary. Volunteers knitting stocking caps for needy kids in preparation for the winter, organizations donating school supplies, service organizations taking on special projects – the list goes on. The point is that there are many giving hearts in your community with treasures to offer. Although it doesn’t look like cash, these treasures are priceless.
  1. Advocacy: Community complacency towards our schools has come about as a result of decades of schools pulling down the blinds and shutting the doors. Unfortunately, when our doors are closed and our windows are covered, others can’t see the good things happening in our schools, or spot challenges and potential solutions. I would ask you to think on this for a second. How might the tides turn if members of your community could see—and be a part of–the good work in your schools? What would happen if in your community you had dozens or even hundreds of volunteers working in different capacities supporting your children and the good work of educators?

advocacy_topicicon-01Ultimately the purpose of opening the doors of our schools is to move our communities from complacency to action and from action to advocacy. In this era of limited resources and high accountability, I’d encourage educators and school leaders to take that first step and open the doors…even if it is just a crack. You might be surprised to find who is waiting for you on the other side of the door ready to help.


CJ Huff is the retired superintendent of Joplin Schools in Joplin, MO. He is recognized nationally in the field of community engagement and 21st century education programming.