School responds to death of middle school student
A Grand Forks counselor described a sense of "shock and sadness" at South Middle School in recent days after students, staff and parents learned of the death of a young student. Administrators sent a letter to parents of South Middle School stude...
A Grand Forks counselor described a sense of "shock and sadness" at South Middle School in recent days after students, staff and parents learned of the death of a young student.
Administrators sent a letter to parents of South Middle School students Friday notifying them that a seventh-grade student had died by suicide. Counselors were made available to meet with students and staff, according to the letter that was provided by Grand Forks Public Schools spokeswoman Tracy Jentz.
Ginny Blake and Marilyn Ripplinger, who are counselors at J. Nelson Kelly Elementary and Red River High School, respectively, said they and others follow a protocol to help both students and staff through a school crisis like last week's death. That team has a number of roles, including providing counseling and preparing information for staff and parents as well as behind the scenes functions to make the day go as smoothly as possible.
"I think we had a lot of students who came down to the counseling center," Blake said. "Students and parents alike, and staff members."
Ripplinger described their protocol as a "systematic way of responding to school crisis."
"Everyone involved has a role," Blake said. "We all have a part to play and we all know what needs to be done."
Those tasks include preparing a statement for teachers to read to students, designating a counseling center and helping debrief staff members after school. It also includes making sure students who want to leave school early to be with their parents have a plan in place and are not home alone.
"The school going through the crisis really has so many other things to think about," Blake said. "The protocol that we follow has been thought about way ahead of the crisis."
Letter to parents
The letter sent to parents by administrators was signed by Principal Nancy Dutot, Assistant Principal Terry West, and counselors Amanda Weston and Bill Chase. The Herald is not identifying the deceased student for this story.
"At a time like this, it is common for individuals to experience a variety of feelings which may range from sadness to anger. This is normal," the letter states. "Even those who did not know the student directly may need help as death may trigger the revisiting of 'old grief' and/or other problems."
The school also sent parents a brochure on suicide and depression that encourages readers to look for warning signs in others. The brochure also asks people to seek help from family members, friends, counselors, religious leaders or from a nationwide hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE, if they are feeling suicidal.
Administrators asked that parents "observe and talk" to their children.
"We want to do all we can to prevent such a tragedy in the future," the letter states.
In an email, Jentz said there are no "reports of bullying on record." Meanwhile, public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say suicide's "causes are complex and determined by multiple factors."