Grieving Students, Transitions and COVID

Now that we are settling in for the school year, students and educators have been adapting to our new COVID-19 world. 

In the transition back to in-person learning, schools may need to reach out to students who have not returned to school or re-engaged in learning. They also be may need to make contact with families that have suffered multiple stressors and losses caused by the pandemic, or whose difficulties have been exacerbated by the isolation of shutdowns.

Many students and educators are grieving what has been lost during COVID-19 closures—chances to socialize with peers, be a leader in middle school, start kindergarten, participate in sports or performing arts. Most have been affected by ongoing issues in the broader world as well—social justice, racial inequities, bitter political divides, the financial impact of the pandemic.

Students who are grieving the death of a family member or loved one are part of this mix. Even before the pandemic, student grief was surprisingly common.

About 1 in 20 students will lose a parent during their school years, and virtually all students will know someone who has died by the time they complete high school. During the pandemic, students have lost loved ones to many causes, including COVID-19. Some communities have been especially hard hit by the virus. Students also are still grieving losses that occurred before the pandemic.

Students who experienced a death of someone close from a cause other than COVID-19 may feel the attention focused on tragic losses due to the pandemic means they are somehow less entitled to grieve openly and request support. This may prompt them to try to keep their feelings private. They may have had to begin to grieve the loss while separated from extended family and friends, and without the usual support of peers. This would further heighten their sense of isolation.

Times of transition and change can be particularly challenging for grieving students. Educators are in a position to offer valuable support that can make a profound difference in students’ lives academically, socially and emotionally—often through simple gestures that help these students feel affirmed and understood.

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students has resources to help you in your daily work.

  • Support for Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic—10 basic steps to create a supportive environment for students during the pandemic
  • Supporting Grieving Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic—5 basic steps to create a supportive, grief-sensitive environment for students. 

For more detailed information, visit the school crisis center.