Calling the slayings Friday of two young boys an "unthinkable tragedy," the Northville Schools superintendent assured parents their children will receive help to deal with the deaths of their classmates.
Leonard Rezmierski said the district would offer counseling for students when they return from the weekend.
Mary Kay Gallagher, assistant superintendent of instruction, said the age of the children factors into the district's response. "We've experienced tragedies before, but never on this scale," she said. "The kids are so young and you want to give them the support they need, but you also need to keep in mind their maturity level."
At a news conference Friday evening, Rezmierski said the boys, Tynan Schons, 6, and Camden Schons, 4, were absent Friday from Thornton Creek Elementary School in Northville.
They were found dead in their Novi home around noon Friday, along with their mother, Jennifer Lynn Schons, 38. Police said it appears the boys' father, Mark Schons, killed the three, then committed suicide. Rezmierski said he was not aware of whether teachers reported any signs of trouble at home prior to the Friday killings.
Thornton Creek, located in Novi, is part of the Northville School District. It is located close to the Schons' home.
"We deeply grieve the loss of a beautiful part of our Thornton Creek community and recognize the urgent need for crisis support for our students, staff, and community over the coming days and weeks," Principal Sharon Irvine said in an e-mail to the school community Friday afternoon.
Rezmierski said the district will help coordinate a memorial service for the family when a location is determined. He also said the boys may be honored at the district's Martin Luther King Jr. Day event Monday.
Rezmierski also said the district has a crisis team in place to decide how to broach the issue when school resumes.
School board President Joan Wadsworth added, "We all recognize this as a terrible tragedy and the school district will do anything we can to support the kids."
Thornton Creek's Irvine sent a Twitter update Friday night, offering support to her 132 followers. "This article will help us handle our most recent grief. http://www.kansas.com/2010/03/23/1237420/kids-at-3-schools-grieve-classmates.html," she tweeted. The story in the Wichita Eagle showed communitywide support for the family of three students killed in Kansas.
How to Talk with Your Children
It’s important for parents to have open discussions with their children about this or any tragedy, and to start right now, said Arnold Keller, executive director of Northville Psychotherapy and Counseling Services. Here are some of Keller’s suggestions for parents:
Encourage children to talk: “The more immediately the better,” Keller said.
Don’t avoid the subject: The wrong things to do, Keller said, would be to try to change the topic or come up with a quick answer like, “They're in heaven now,” or, “They're in a better place.”
Watch for delayed reaction: Young children might not express it now, but a week or two weeks from now they might start talking about their friend who is gone. “It's a very difficult situation, especially because 4-, 5- or 6-year-olds don't always have the language to express what they're feeling,” Keller said. “It's important for parents to do the prompting, and ask what they remember about their friend."
He also said parents or school staff can call him at 248-348-1100 or e-mail email@example.com if they want to get some help. He's happy to do phone consultations, too.