Critical Event: Response and Recovery

An event that has a negative impact on the students and staff and interrupts the normal flow of daily events may be considered a critical event. It is usually associated with a traumatic loss or injury to someone close to the student(s).

Critical events can create strong emotional responses in both students and staff. Symptoms will vary with people and may range from giddiness and loud chatter to tears and sullenness and sometimes both. This is evidence of emotions stretched beyond normal limits and it can seem that the school climate has become emotionally charged. A critical event needs to be effectively managed for all concerned. Good management gives direction to the emotion and provides support to the staff and students. Well defined roles for dealing with the situation will reduce confusion and ensure that decisions are reasoned and effective. This will speed up response time and assist the school to return to a normal state.

Another reason for an effective plan is so schools can preempt escalation of negative reactions/actions in the school community to the event. Additional stress within the school culture will manifest in many ways, and for a time, it may result in more conflicts and more frustrations being exhibited.

Based on our response to a crisis, the district and school are subject to close scrutiny by the public. Public expectation is that schools must be able to support and assist the children through any difficult emotions associated with a critical event. Children and their families should be reassured by the school's actions that the event is being kept “low key” while being competently managed.

Incident Commander (Principal):

  • Gather the facts: RCMP, District staff, family and family friends;
  • Contact District staff, additional support will be arranged if needed;
  • Contact your identified crisis response team leader. This may be the principal, key teachers, counseling staff from the school or district;
  • Have an up to date phone tree or communication plan developed to permit ease of notification ensuring all staff (custodial, absent staff, etc.) are informed in a timely fashion;
  • Identify staff who will phone parents of classmates directly affected;
  • Contact your School/District Counsellor;
  • If school is “in session”, inform staff before the day begins, at lunch, or at the end of the day, delay the beginning of class as required. It is good practice to have counseling staff present for this to support grieving staff;
  • Prepare a statement for staff to read to their students (sample attached);
  • Prepare a few directions for your secretary to handle outside enquiries;
  • Establish how you will inform all staff of any new developments (email, staff meeting etc.);
  • Arrange for a sympathy card(s) for staff to sign and arrange other acts of kindness as may seem appropriate. Coordinate with staff to minimize the visitations to the home(s) of the victim(s)
  • Liaises with District designate, school administration, and RCMP to verify facts;
  • Requests additional support for the school Critical Event Team if required;
  • Assist staff and students with events in or out of the school (watching for stressors or grieving that seems to be more than average). Assisting with providing contacts for the district Employee Family Assistance Program as necessary;
  • If it appears to be a widespread impact in the school population, establish a “grieving space” or “welcome room” where students may go. Arrange for staff to be present at all times. Provide juice, cookies etc. Tell staff where students may find a quiet place to grieve if they feel they must leave class;
  • If needed, organize classroom(s) and staff debriefing;
  • Inform appropriate District Staff as to the status of the situation and assist with media releases;
  • Organize any needed follow-up for staff, students, classes or any other groups within the school;
  • After a couple of days clean out the belongings of the student(s) from the school and keep in the office until after the funeral and/or the parents request the articles.

Role of Teachers:

  • If you hear an unofficial report regarding a critical event involving anyone from your school immediately inform your AO so they may check into its authenticity;
  • Participate in phone tree activities as needed to notify colleagues or parents;
  • Announce the confirmed facts in your classroom. You will be given a statement to read (sample attached). You may have a critical event counsellor to assist you in talking to your class;
  • Identify students in need of support. You will be told where to send those who require service. Refer students who appear to have ongoing grief issues;
  • Remove very distraught students from the class by having them accompanied to the counseling area or welcome room;
  • In classrooms directly affected, eliminate, shorten or restructure assignments for a few days to permit grieving. Postpone significant assessments;
  • Discuss with and prepare students who will be attending a funeral;
  • Involve your class in constructive activities relating to the event (making cards for the family etc.);
  • Discuss the loss of the student openly, and gently steer the grieving toward good memories and good times;
  • Consult with district staff regarding communication with the media. In general, communication with the media should go no further than saying that "the staff and students send their deepest sympathy and regrets to the family in their time of loss."

Role of Secretary & Other Staff:

  • If you hear an unofficial report regarding a critical event involving anyone from your school immediately inform your AO so they may check into its authenticity;
  • If you have an automated phone out system for attendance, disable it for effected student(s);
  • If possible, attend the staff meeting to be informed about the event and the plans for the next few school days;
  • Ensure that you are informed of appropriate strategies to handle students’ questions or comments;
  • Ensure that you are clear on school procedures for handling requests from parents, news media and others. Be aware that extra personnel may be in the building; however, report anyone who appears to be on school grounds inappropriately;
  • Consult with the principal regarding communication with the media.

Role of Counsellors:

  • Verify facts with Team Leader or district designate;
  • Assist to establish a “grieving space” or “welcome room” where students may go. Tell staff where students may find a quiet place to grieve if they feel they must leave class;
  • Meet with Team Leader, Principal and Vice Principal to a develop plan to assist students, staff and parents over the next days;
  • Attend staff meetings associated with the event and support grieving staff;
  • Prepare for and provide crisis counseling and class debriefing events;
  • Ensure all feeder schools and other affected persons are informed;
  • Ensure locker(s) and desk(s) are cleaned out after a suitable amount of time has passed (a day or 2) and with the Principal bring the student(s) belongings to their home.

 

Sample announcement to a class about a death:

"Something very sad has happened. Janie Doe, from Mrs. Jones' grade 7 class has died in a car accident. The accident occurred yesterday afternoon and we continue to learn more as time goes on. In the next while, it is very normal if you are feeling sad, angry, afraid or confused, or it seems like you have no feelings at all. We are going to take care of each other to get through this. I hope you will feel free to talk to me about your feelings if you are struggling with Janie’s death. If you feel that you need to leave class today because it is all too much to handle you may go to room 7 or you may wish to phone your parents to pick you up from school."

Sample letter home:

Dear Parents/Guardians;

We have suffered a tragedy at our school. On December 12th one of our students, Janie Doe, died suddenly and unexpectedly in an automobile accident. In addition to our deepest sympathy for the family, we are deeply saddened by the loss of Janie from our school community.

We are very sensitive to the impact this event will have on our students. In response, the school has implemented a plan that allows students an opportunity to talk about their thoughts and feelings with our trained professionals. We expect some students will seek out this help, while others may feel it is not what they need. This service is not intended to take the place of your ongoing conversations with your child, or replace the need for outside professional or religious support as you may see fit.

Below are a few thoughts about how you may support your child as they grieve:

  • Be yourself - show your own sorrow and natural concern for the family as well as your own child’s feelings of loss, by using your own words;
  • Listen - make opportunities to spend time together by walking or playing a board game or reading, and listen to their grief. Use simple direct words to reflect what they say, and permit them to be angry or cry;
  • Explain things - talk about what the funeral will be like, make things
  • predictable and understandable;
  • Don’t assume - if your child appears calm and confident, do not assume that they are not feeling deep sorrow or loss. Ask if they wish to talk.

Please do not hesitate to contact the school (insert contact name and info).

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