There is no easy way to tell you about the loss to our learning community. [NAME OF DECEASED] [FACTS OF DEATH] [DATE].

I know this is upsetting. I’m devastated, but I will not pretend to know what you are going through. If you have questions about [NAME OF DECEASED’S] death, please let me try to answer them. We can take as much time to talk about this as you need. Your feelings are okay. Anger, disbelief, and sadness are common, and crying is okay. …

Teacher template to report student death to classmates

This summer, American teachers are drafting templates for messages on the inevitable illness and death that Trump-ordered school openings will bring.

Teachers across America are facing special challenges in addition to those of all of their neighbors this summer. COVID-19 must be reckoned with as teachers are responsible for the safety of our children.

Despite the fact that the spread of this virus has not been contained and cases are spiking in many areas, reckless politicians and spineless lackeys are forcing the mandate: “School must reopen.” 

Arizona teacher Kimberly Lopez Chavez Byrd died after teaching a summer school class. Trump’s response when asked about it: “Schools should be opened. Schools should be opened. Those kids want to go to school. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed. We saved millions of lives while we did the initial closure.”

We are seeing the poorest management of this disease in the world. When the world has lost 605,000 and the US has lost 143,000, something is utterly incompetent from the top down.

I know the sacrifices students, parents, and teachers make to ensure the promise of a better future that an education brings. Trump’s demand is nothing short of devastating cruel foolishness. 

Devastating because we know his orders will increase the duration and spread of a deadly virus that has already infected millions. 

Cruel because he refuses to care about the increased and unnecessary suffering of others. 

Foolish because he continues to trust his gut, which is frequently wrong, instead of the advances achieved through the scientific method and evidence-based decision making.

I learned of the drowning death of a student of mine in our community college, and spent hours processing what to do. There is no good way to share the bad news of a classmate who will not be returning to class, and I struggled evaluating how to make the least traumatic terrible news delivery. I decided that I could safely share he’d drowned while swimming, that people sometimes do not realize how quickly hypothermia can set in, and that the water was still quite cool despite the hot weather. I identified the resources available on campus, and sent emails to confirm my plans for making the resources available to students who wanted to utilize them.

How many times will teachers have to do this in the coming months?

I remembered the gross insensitivity I’d faced as student and the promises I’d made to do better than certain faculty. I was graded down for a presentation I gave the day my brother died, because I seemed distracted; now, as a teacher, I vowed I would do better. I did some reading on common responses and warning signs. I looked over group work and in-class activities to identify which students might have developed relationships. I spent most of the weekend to make sure I did not fail my students.

Now, of course, chances of more sickness, more hospitalization, and more deaths are more likely. When courses at my school, Cuyahoga Community College, went online after the outbreak, students described symptoms and fears. Literally all of them had worried about their exposure. Those who wanted tests could not get them. Some had waited in line, but had been turned away. Many had jobs they still needed to go to, and few felt they could adequately concentrate let alone prepare for class.

I’m grateful it has already been decided that my courses this fall will be fully online. It also gives me the opportunity to fully develop the curriculum and lesson plans. Creating alignment in my classes and delivering on learning outcomes is different in the virtual space of online learning. But there is great expertise on best practices for teaching and understanding how students learn in the remote platform environment. 

Trump’s forced reopening of schools will cause deaths of students, teachers, and their families. So I should alert everyone to The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, as they have guidance and advice for coping and dealing with the unthinkable. Their templates are for addressing students, parents, and staff in the unfortunate event of suicide or death from various causes. 

Thanks, Trump, and your minion DeVos, for shattering the world of education for so many, for setting back the US in so many tragic, absolutely avoidable ways. As we get closer to voting for sanity on November 3rd we won’t have to remember far back to recall why it is past time for you to step down and move aside. My duty to my students is to protect the learning environment and ending such derelict non-leadership is part of that duty that I share with teachers everywhere. 


Image Credit: the feature caricature of Donald Trump was created by DonkeyHotey (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Wim Laven

Wim Laven

Wim Laven, Ph.D. is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.