View Full Version : School dealing with student suicide

General Joy
12-03-2008, 11:54 PM
In my book, my character is an 8th grader who commits suicide on May 30th--that is, about a week and a half before 8th grade graduation. I would love some thoughts from teachers, administrators, and parents who might have some knowledge about this (but hopefully who aren't too experienced in the subject--don't want to bring back any feelings of grief here!). Is it likely that the graduation would continue as planned? Also, since the funeral will be on a school day, would the school allow all students who want to attend the service to go? Also, do 8th graders (this is middle school, btw) have finals, the way you do in high school? I can't remember. If so, would the suicide victim's close friends be expected to complete these exams? Or would the school maybe give them some alternative assignment? Just want to know what would be most plausible... Oh, and this is 1998.


12-04-2008, 12:42 AM
I was a member of the board of Education when our Valedictorian (12th grade)beat his mother to death with a baseball bat the night before graduation. This was a little different situation than what you are talking about, but it was a shocker.
All the kids and most of the teachers knew what happened through the grapevine. The boy was in jail and had confessed after questioning.
I attended the graduation. The mood was subdued but nothing was said about the incident. The Salutatorian gave her speech and the ceremony continued on.
As it turned out, the kids were less surprised than the teachers and the other adults. They recognized the signs of the stress the boy's mother was putting on him, and understood it when he finally snapped. The teachers, and of course the administrators were oblivious.

12-04-2008, 12:48 AM
When a student in my grade died this way in the early-mid 90s, the small town school I attended made a plaque for him and put it on the section of wall dedicated to students who had died (there were almost 30 plaques there when I graduated, 4 students died during my time there and this was done for each one).

As for classes, the teachers in our grade explained what had happened (very delicately) in homeroom, we had a Moment of Silence, and then everything proceeded as normal, only very quietly. Roll was called, tests were taken, the usual. Students were upset of course, but the faculty tried to preserve a sense of normality and stability rather than encourage everyone to publicly speak about their feelings or cry or whatever. Those who wished to do so were free to speak with the guidance counselor.

When the 12th grade graduation rolled around 5 or 6 years later, a seat was left empty for him, with a cap&gown placed on it. Nobody said anything specific, but we did have another Moment of Silence for "Those who couldn't be here today".

As for finals, 7th-12th grade had them, and mid-terms too.

Kitty Pryde
12-04-2008, 12:55 AM
erk! This actually happened 8th grade year at my middle school in 1997. One of my classmates hung himself 3 weeks before the end of the year. He was quiet but well-liked by lots of students and teachers. He was an acquaintance and casual friend, but I wasn't close to him. Of course graduation would happen. And of course the school would do something in his memory during graduation (they would do that for any students who died before graduation), and give his folks an 8th grade diploma. And no, they wouldn't have a problem with kids leaving class to attend the funeral. I didn't go to graduation OR the funeral, but I tend to withdraw from upsetting situations.

We didn't have real finals in 8th grade. As you know, it's a very emotionally volatile age, so reactions can be more dramatic than they would be in teens or adults. I think no one really expects a grieving kid to do hard core school work, but obviously it would vary from teacher to teacher and from kid to kid. In the incident at my school, he was discovered by another 8th grader whose family he was staying with at the time. The girl who found him didn't return to school for the rest of the year.

Another thing is that the school would bring in counselors to talk to the kids, and people would probably be allowed to leave class to meet with them. Some facilitator (i don't know what his job title is) would come in and give a talk to teachers (and probably one for interested parents as well) on how to help kids deal with loss (or guilt, or fear). They also want to do everything they can to make sure no one else will try suicide, either because they perceive that the other kid 'succeeded' in ending his pain or because they want to similarly become the center of attention in a terrible way. There will also be a lot of talk of 'Recognizing the Signs that Someone is Suicidal' even though it is often impossible to do. (We also had facilitator people come to our high school when there was a major school shooting at one of our rival schools in town.) They don't make people talk to them, but they make them available to help kids process their feelings and such.

And like I said, the teachers wouldn't expect too much out of the kids for the rest of the year, maybe watch some videos and discuss them, or review what's already been learned.

That's all I can think of right now. I'll post more if I think of anything else.

12-04-2008, 05:49 PM
Most of what you need to know has already been covered by the posts above, but I have some tid bits that may be useful.

Concerning exams, depending on what country your story is set in, whether the students have official state/provincial exams varies. You could easily find this out by googling the ministry of education (or the equivalent) in the province/state your story is set in. If the grade 8s in your location don't have official exams they need to write, it's up to the individual schools (and in those schools, the individual subject teachers) to decide whether to have exams for certain subjects or not. If an event such as a suicide or other death occurred prior to exams, and if the exams are not state/province mandated, the school would probably choose to not have exams.

Graduation would go ahead as planned, and yes, students would be allowed to miss class to attend the funeral.

Schools have different policies where such situations are concerned in regards to how much is discussed with students. In certain cases, the school may decide that each homeroom teacher speaks to the students in their class about it. Some schools may choose to have a school wide assembly. Other schools may never mention anything openly but have an announcement that grief counsellors will be available for the students if any need to talk. There are no hard and fast rules about such things, so you can pretty much choose how the school would approach it. If many of the teachers were uncomfortable about discussing the situation with students, the administrators may choose to do a school assembly or just announce the presence of the counsellors in the school.

12-04-2008, 06:05 PM
the school president at my school committed suicide not that long ago probably about 19mouths ago. As a sign of respect - the whole school lined up out side the chruch, along the road on either side as the body arrived and was taken away, the student was quite popular in their grade, so the whole grade attended the funeral.

12-05-2008, 12:15 AM
I was just posting about this.. When I was in high school, a boy committed suicide on school property. The students put up poster boards and wrote messages to him, and they even removed his locker and gave it to his family. A counselor came in to talk to students whenever they needed it, and friends were allowed to leave to go to his wake. Graduation went on as usual, and it wasn't mentioned in the speech except for a line about learning that loss was a part of life.

I don't remember if there were exams to graduate the 8th grade, but I can't remember any. Just the final tests for each class. I can't imagine students would be exempt from their tests though, they need to be taught that life goes on. It's not healthy to teach a child that when life is shitty they can get a free pass. If they were EXTREMELY depressed, maybe I could see an exception.

Serious Desi
12-05-2008, 04:21 AM
There would most likely be a day off to remember him and the principal would get on the intercom and have a ‘you sit and listen’ talk. My school did an violence awareness day when gangs started to tag places, so a suicide awareness day might happen.

Nothing to do with anything:
My school has a ghost story about a suicide. She’s in the theater.

12-05-2008, 05:50 AM
We had a classmate die in 7th grade -- she was hit and killed by a train, and nobody ever really knew if it was suicide or not. We had a huge school assembly about train safety -- how long it takes trains to stop, etc., etc. Can't remember if we had one specifically about suicide -- probably not, since no one was ever SURE she'd done it on purpose. Our junior high was downtown near a large church, and the whole school was excused for the girl's funeral, which was held there.

And I'm sure the counselors said to come in any time to talk about it, but I never did.

They had a remembrance page for her in the school yearbook, but that was it, since we didn't do 8th grade graduation at our school.


-- Marcy

12-05-2008, 07:20 AM
I went to a Catholic high school, so this is going to be a little bit subjective, though it might be intriguing or useful in some way.

It was a close knit, small community, so obviously the loss was devastating. A sophomore boy... I was a senior, I think... committed suicide. Despite the nature of the death and the conflict with religion, the school allowed any and all students to attend the funeral. They also had a service in his name, wherein students would write a brief goodbye prayer, picked at random and read out loud to the group.

The students rallied together to create a support group as well as a pasta dinner costing $5 to donate to a scholarship in his name. It was heartbreaking, but a beautiful thing to watch everyone come together in the event. It's a shame such togetherness doesn't often come about under happier circumstances.

I had finals in 8th grade, if I remember correctly. It's up to you as the writer I think, whether or not you include any of these things. If it goes with the purpose of the story, don't worry so much about "breaking the rules."

I hope this helps.

General Joy
12-05-2008, 04:51 PM
Kitty-- Odd how similar the circumstances are with the boy you went to school with and my character (so close to the end of the year, the age, and the method--my character also commits suicide by hanging herself). If I have any more questions down the road, I'll PM you if that's okay.

Thanks, everyone, for the input.