Officials at Russell High School in Russell, Kan., have cited safety concerns as the reason they removed memorials to 14 students and former students who have died. But the move isn’t sitting well with some members of the community.
“Some students in school who feel like they don’t have much going for themthey see this nice plaque up for a student,” said assistant superintendent David Couch. A student could draw the conclusion that “this is some way I can get remembered,” Couch said.
The 14 pictures, plaques, and other items meant to honor the students were removed over the summer after an addendum to the school district’s crisis intervention plan called for the removal of memorials that could glorify death and possibly encourage suicide.
The new policy also was meant to eliminate any notion of discrimination on the basis of a survivor’s financial ability to memorialize a loved one and to take away any reminders of a loss that could make students uncomfortable.
“Schools change,” said Russell High School Principal Larry Barnard, “and because they change, we have to change with that.”
A memorial committee has met to discuss alternatives, such as photographing the memorials, placing the pictures in a wall panel, and displaying them with the graduating classes. But to the family members of those whose memorials were removed, the new policy is unfair.
Irene Jepsen, whose daughter Dena, a 1983 Russell High graduate, died in a car crash in 1988 while a student at North Texas State University, said she’s “very hurt” by the district’s actions.
“I think it’s disgusting. I think it’s horrible. It’s not something that should have happened at all,” Jepsen said
Jim Rodman, a crisis consultant for the Educational Service Center in Greenbush, said the district’s concern has a real basis and that many schools are shying away from memorials. Rodman consulted with Russell administrators on the issue.
“There is certainly information out there that talks about the potential of the … over-memorialization and glorifying of an adolescent suicide, leading to copycats or a cluster effect,” he said, adding that the research is specific to teen suicide.
He suggested memorials be moved to other public places such as churches or libraries where attendance is not mandated.