A while back, the Unified School District 428 School Board thought it prudent to come up with a policy governing memorials and memorial services following the death of students or personnel. The plan was to have the policy in place before it was needed.
"The purpose of this policy is to have many decisions made, in a dispassionate environment, prior to the crisis event," said Superintendent Tom Vernon during the school board’s meeting Monday night. A first draft of the policy was in the works when 14-year-old Alicia DeBolt, who was to be a freshman at Great Bend High School, was killed.
In light of DeBolt’s death, the policy made for a somber discussion. No decision was made Monday night, but after some revisions and updates, action will be taken at a later meeting.
"The primary purpose of school facilities and grounds is to support the educational and extra-curricular endeavors of all students," the proposal reads. "It is the intent of the Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education to maintain all facilities and grounds for this purpose and to give first priority to these endeavors. Furthermore, the Board of Education believes learning takes place best in an environment protected from undue emotional stress."
The purpose of a memorial is to help bring closure for those who are grieving. But, it shouldn’t interfere with the district’s key mission, Vernon said.
Some key provisions of the policy are:
• The regular school day will not be shortened or dismissed in order for students and staff to attend a funeral or memorial service.
• Students who wish to attend funerals or memorial services will be released with parental permission.
• School activities and games will continue as scheduled except when the superintendent, in the event of a catastrophic event (such as an accident with multiple student/staff deaths), determines that such activities would be inappropriate.
• Use of school grounds or facilities for memorial and/or funeral services during school time is prohibited. Requests for use of school grounds or facilities for such purposes after school and on weekends would be discouraged.
• Memorials established upon school district property must be proposed, reviewed, and adopted cognizant of: Equality; proper concern for all students, staff, and community members; appropriateness of the memorial; and best usage of available property.
• Memorials will be considered for students and staff members who were enrolled or employed in one of the district schools at the time of their death.
To view a PDF version of the draft policy, click here
The district has established the USD 428 Educational Foundation through which monetary memorials can be given or scholarships established. "This is the preferred method," Vernon said.
Other suggested memorials include educational materials, equipment or decorative plants. A floral arrangement could also be displayed during graduation at the request of a parent or guardian. But, there would be limits on plaques, pictures and other memorabilia placed on school grounds, and on tributes in student publications. The plan also deals with the disposal of memorials.
"You can’t write a policy to cover everything," Vernon said.
He contacted other school districts and the Kansas Association of School Boards, and found that such written policies were rare, and he ran the language in the draft past attorneys first. He also consulted with child psychologists.
A big concern among many professionals is the glorification of death, particularly suicide, Vernon said.
Talk turned to the inflatable tunnel, given in memory of student Clint Flagler, used by the Great Bend High School football team, and the plaques memorializing veterans that were a part of the old bleachers at GBHS’s Memorial Stadium. These and other existing tributes would be dealt with as needed.