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Crisis Response

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The classroom teacher noted changes in eight-year-old Jenny's attendance and behavior. Jenny seemed less motivated to perform in school, her homework was no longer completed, and she was often unkempt and prone to falling asleep in class. The teacher had heard a rumour about Jenny's living situation but did not want to pry into her private life.

On July 8, 2008 I testified at a congressional hearing on school safety and bullying prevention. There I met Sirdeaner L. Walker, the mother of eleven-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover, who had recently died by suicide. Walker described in her testimony the bullying that Carl received at school and that he was repeatedly called gay. She described herself as an involved parent who tried to do everything right, and stated that she had informed school administrators about the bullying her son was subjected to at school.

Jenny, a third-grade girl, commented after receiving the results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, “I cried repeatedly when I heard the news, and so did my mom.” Jenny had failed the high-stakes test necessary for promotion and as a result was required by state rules to repeat third grade. Jenny now considers herself a failure and a loser.

A suburban school systewas saddened when its third student in several months died by suicide. The superintendent shared the most recent tragedy at a meeting with other local superintendents and was startled to learn that across four neighboring districts, nine teenagers had died by suicide in the last 18 months. Were they in the midst of a suicide cluster? If so, how could they stop it? Did these teens all know each other? How will further deaths be prevented? Who is most at risk?

In Fort Lauderdale in March, students and teachers were in shock following the news that a three-vehicle accident involving a semi-trailer truck had killed a Broward County Public Schools fourth-grade teacher, as well as injuring her four grandchildren and another teacher. Numerous parents, staff and students passed the scene of the accident, and rumors began flying.

At times such as this, administrators need to have procedures in place to stifle rumors and help the school community manage its grief. These tips can help.

 







 







 







 







 

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