An Absurdly Challenging Year

Chloe Torkelson, Reporter

This year, our school has lost eight students in various circumstances, ranging from medical issues to murder. 

When facing a student’s death, there’s not a specific protocol that the teachers or counselors follow. 

Principal Ben Mitchell says he tries to go through a list when responding to a student’s death. 

First, they need confirmation that the student has passed away. From there he’ll send out condolences to the Southeast community. 

The next is to contact USD 259 Student Support Services, who will create a plan depending on the case. 

“A lot of times, it depends on the time of day, if it’s the night before school, during the school day or right before school, all of those factors play a part in how we respond,” Stephanie Anderson, Program Specialist for School Counselors, said.

From there on they look to see how many support counselors are needed in addition to the counselors we have at school. 

“We bring in support counselors from the Counseling Department, Social Work Department, school psychologist and nurses, and then we send that team to the building to provide additional support for the students, adults and sometimes the parents,” Anderson said. 

Depending on the case, they’ll send them to the classrooms the students who passed away were in, a conference room, library or the auditorium.

After the counselors are contacted, Mitchell will see what the parents may need and how he can support them. The school administration wants to respect the family’s wishes, depending on what the family wants the school will decide on how and what they will do. This includes memorials for the students who have passed. 

When the school lost Azuri Jones, there was a memorial for her put up by her friends. There was a poster decorated with signatures and flowers. 

Another recent memorial is in the wrestling room. The letters LLM, standing for “Long Live Montae,” were added to a painting of a buffalo following the death of wrestler Montae Oliver.

The school has also given a moment of silence to Azuri Jones and Cedric Lofton, however the school has since stopped doing a moment of silence. 

“Oftentimes, what it does is it alerts people that may not need to even know that this happened, and that maybe that sounds cold or callous, but sometimes when you don’t know the person, or you don’t know that a tragic event has happened,” Mitchell said. 

Some students have been disappointed at the lack of mentions or memorials for the students who have passed.

“No, [they] haven’t recognized them in any way. So I feel like they could at least mention them,” Diego Puga (11) said. 

“I feel like there should be an area in the school where they remember all students who have problems or at least a remembrance picture of them,” Mariah Mathews (11) said. 

Others were more upset at the lack of mental health support that the school is offering. 

“I feel as if we should have maybe an assembly about mental health or who to reach out to losing loved ones. Because I feel like there are a lot of children in this school who don’t 

know who to go to. There are a lot of people in school who don’t know who to call or where the counselors are, how to arrange an appointment with the counselors, or whatever it is you have to do, I don’t even know the process honestly,” Sahara Raya (11) said. 

“I don’t think they spread awareness enough. I don’t think they acknowledge mental health enough. And that’s in between students, staff, teachers, they don’t acknowledge mental health at all,” Mariah Mathews (11) said.

However the school is looking into what to do to recognize the students who have passed away. 

Principal Mitchell says he may mention the students who have passed away at this year’s graduation. And it’s been suggested that the school has a memorial area or garden, between the academic hallways. This may include a sitting area with trees and a peaceful environment, while also having the students who passed away names in an area.  

It’s not only the students, but the teachers who have been affected by the lose of their students. 

“This is uncharted territory for me after 27 years in the district. I’ve never seen this many student deaths in one year. You know, and what I don’t want to do is be callous and like okay, go on. Let’s go on business as usual. What you want to do is take the time to remember them and say their names,” Principal Mitchel said.