Student and faculty deaths will be acknowledged in a consistent, thoughtful manner under a Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District policy adopted this month, officials said.
The Board of Education adopted District Policy 599 on June 18.
Assistant Superintendent Brian Gersich said inconsistencies in how school communities respond to death can create debate over the value of life. The policy aims to recognize any loss of life as tragic regardless of the circumstances.
“As a school community, we had a number of occasions over this school year where we did experience loss of life of young people that were connected to our schools,” he said, adding the policy’s development began prior to these events, but recent deaths highlighted how difficult these situations can be for school leadership to navigate.
Dana Thompson, supervisor of student support services, said materials endorsed by the National Association of School Psychologists and policies from neighboring districts, including Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools, were studied while developing the policy.
Under the new policy, memorial activities expressed at school need to be coordinated and approved through the Building Crisis Response Team. Schools are primarily to support learning, the policy states, and school sites should not serve as the main venue for memorializing students or staff.
School memorials will be limited to banners or pictures displayed in a common area students are able to avoid, such as the media center. Memorials will be displayed one week after death or to the day after the funeral — whichever is sooner — then offered the family.
Permanent memorials will be limited to endowments, scholarships, books or other items with educational significance. Memorial trees and other permanent memorials already in place will not be impacted by the new policy.
Memorials following a death by suicide are particularly important to monitor, according to the policy.
“Schools should strive to treat all deaths in the same way,” the policy reads. “Having a different approach for a death by suicide reinforces prejudice associated with suicide and may be deeply painful to the deceased’s family and friends.”
The policy continues to say that schools play an important role in balancing the community’s need to grieve with the impact a proposed memorial or activity could have on students.
Memorials should be coordinated with family and friends whenever possible to ensure a meaningful, safe and culturally sensitive acknowledgement of the loss.
The policy also establishes parameters for how memorializing students and staff through a moment of silence, the yearbook, graduation ceremony or a commemorative event.
The superintendent, in consultation with the District Crisis Response Team, has the discretion to consider school-wide memorials when a crisis event has a significant impact on the majority of students, staff and community.