School Banned Memorial T-Shirts for Cancer Victim

Folks — This story is one that is perhaps a little less egregious than it appears at first blush. On Monday, a middle school banned its students from wearing t-shirts memorializing a 6th grader, Caitlyn Jackson, who died of leukemia over the weekend:

…as students arrived in the memorial shirts Monday morning, school administrators asked them to change the shirts, turn them inside out, or put duct tape over Caitlyn’s name.

That’s ridiculous. Agreed. The school’s reasoning?

Jones said the district’s decision was based on its “crisis management plan,” which she said is “based on a lot of research and expert opinion.” The plan specifically bars “permanent memorials” on the research-backed belief that memorials can remind students of their grief and, for some, can make it worse.

Administrators seem not to have realized that t-shirts are NOT permanent memorials. Moreover, children can handle grief, and have always done so. They can even face clothing that denotes death: for eons, they saw people dressed in actual mourning garb. So why are we treating this generation as especially vulnerable? They’re not.

However, the very next day the administration reversed its edict! How few schools admit that they might have been wrong and do a re-think? Never enough. Major props. And I also understand the school’s original position, however clunkily it responded to this individual case. I DO think over-memorializing suicide victims can make suicide seem more normal, or even appealing (if that’s the word). So there’s something to be said for not over-focusing on that particular demise in any way.

But cancer is a different story, and I’m glad the school ended up allowing this memorial. Caitlyn, RIP. – L

Video from before the school reversed its ban.


20 Responses to School Banned Memorial T-Shirts for Cancer Victim

  1. C.J. November 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    This is just wrong. Kids need to be able to express their grief not be told to hide it. My kids are competitive dancers. Last January we lost one of our dancers to a car accident. We wear a ribbon of her favourite colour and a pin with her picture on our team jackets. The kids wore a ribbon on every costume for the whole season in honour of their friend. Crop tops were donated and stitched with a heart and the little girls name for them to wear to workshops. It helped them feel close to her. They danced for her. They will never forget her and many of them want ribbons on whatever they can put it on. We encourage the kids to honour her, it seems to help them. It is hard as an adult to understand such terrible things never mind children. We all felt so helpless, there was nothing we could do to make it better for her family or the children except to honour her. I think most of us, both children and adults, will keep that ribbon and pin forever. We will never forget her and it is nice to have.

  2. Abby November 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Of course memorializing will make grief worse… but grief is a positive thing! It’s healing and very human. Why do we think that it’s our job to protect kids from sadness at every moment? This is life.

  3. SKL November 14, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Interesting though, if this crisis management policy could be applied to other fearful tragedies! It basically says that encouraging people to permanently dwell on tragedies doesn’t help and could hurt. That’s a good message in my opinion. (But I agree that whoever applied it to t-shirts is an idiot.)

    There is a blogger I used to follow who posts the photos of the Sandy Hook child victims on their birthdays, always ending her memorial with “we will never forget!” Obviously one never forgets a lost family member, but these children are strangers to the blogger and all her readers; the only thing they can “never forget” is the tragedy that ended those lives. And while I am sure she has only the best intentions, I don’t understand why people think it is good to always remember the day a lunatic decided to shoot up a school full of children. Obviously we won’t completely forget it but why dwell on it?

    Would like to know more about he research the school is citing that days dwelling on the bad is not good. Maybe it could be promoted for other purposes.

  4. SKL November 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    And on a related topic, adoption grief comes up a lot in my circles. I would never deny it, but sometimes I think well-intentioned parents rub it in like salt in a wound. (Some adult adoptees agree with this, some disagree.) For example, there are some folks who display a framed photo of their child’s birth mom in their child’s bedroom. (These are children who were relinquished in early infancy (usually around birth) and never had contact with the birth mother after that.) These parents often bring the birth mom up in conversation and if the child is irrationally upset, will ask if they are missing their mother etc. I mean, yes, adoption hinges on loss – a big loss – and it’s healthy for kids to be able to express this. But we all feel loss in different ways. I don’t think grief should be imposed on people by others. There’s a reason why most developed societies no longer require widows and orphans to wear symbols of their loss for long time periods.

    This is also why I think it’s a terrible idea to build a huge monument to “remember” 9/11. Nobody’s forgetting 9/11 any time soon, but why make a monument to the day that terrorism wreaked such devastation in NYC? Yeesh.

  5. Sharon November 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    The t-shirts were a lovely and thoughtful gesture. Sixth graders, I have one this year, are not infants. They feel, think, and react not like children or like adults.

    Judge Judy said the age is about half cooked. Some ideas are ingrained some can be changed. Honoring a classmate even if it hurts a little is a good thing.

    My daughter is at the age where a lot of her friends are losing grandparents. The first time it happened she asked me what do I say. I said say you are sorry and ask her if she wants to hug (it was a very good friend who likes to hug). I am sure the girl will return the favor when it happens to my daughter.

  6. Havva November 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    This situation really brings out my disgust with “experts” and their accursed protocols. Grief doesn’t follow protocols.

    A boy in my class, Paul, was a victim of a murder suicide. News hit during vacation. I’ll never forget the school district’s grief ‘assistance’ unit that was unleashed on my middle school.

    The psychologist were more interested in fitting our grief into their protocols than they were in actually helping anyone cope. They took over our classes, gave standing orders to our teachers, made us sit through a graphic blow by blow account of how our classmate and his family were hunted and killed by his father. As well as the subsequent suicide of his father. The shrink concluded with “Doesn’t that make you ANGRY?!” And proceeded to demand anger.

    When the first classmate to overcome the shock expressed a sad humble gratitude to have know Paul the psychologist interrupted sputtering out, “But…but…but…aren’t you ANGRY?” The class backed up my friend adding funny stories about Paul. All the while the psychologist was interrupting with sputtering disbelief demanding that we be angry. That we talk about ‘our anger.’ I can’t speak for everyone, but my friend and I had already talked about anger and agreed that there was no point in being angry at a corpse.

    After that day the psychologists retreated private sessions only.

    Some 6 months later the school wide poetry collection was 1/2 in reference to Paul and every reference angry. No sign of healing, no grief, no tributes to his great humor, just uncontrolled anger.

  7. Earth.W November 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Some commonsense.

  8. Donna November 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    @SKL – In a similar vein, years ago I was part of an online single mother’s group with a large number of donor-created families and many of the mothers were highly focused on incorporating the donor into their family and imparting their own sense of loss of a father onto their very young children. It seemed sad to me. A 3 year old notices that he doesn’t have a dad like other kids – although different family variations are not uncommon today – but any longing is more akin to wanting a dog or train because all his friends have one. He has no concept of reproduction to understand that there must be a male contribution so I’m not sure what positive is gained by dwelling on the lack and trying to fill a blank spot that doesn’t really exist at that point.

    This is not to say that the families should never mention the donor or ignore the fact that there is a loss. It just seemed odd to encourage such a feeling of loss, especially at a young age where the loss isn’t really understood. I also wondered why these women had children with donors if they thought it was such a tragedy but that is a different topic.

  9. Papilio November 14, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    “The plan specifically bars “permanent memorials” on the research-backed belief that memorials can remind students of their grief and, for some, can make it worse.”

    “[Caitlyn] died (…) over the weekend”

    How are students going to be reminded of her death when it’s THAT recent???!!! Do they all suffer from memory loss or something?!

  10. Eileen November 14, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    It does make you wonder who decided that tshirts were somehow related to ‘permanent memorials’? Somewhere along the line, an admin got wind of kids wanting to wear shirts and made that leap. Odd.

    But good for them to reverse course and acknowledge a mistake.

  11. hineata November 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    @Havva – how bizarre! I hope that things have moved on from that psychologist’s time – it reminds me a little for some reason of that spate of child abuse cases in crèches. Basically, people trying to put words in kids’ mouths.

  12. lollipoplover November 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    So a bunch of friends hit the craft store to make t-shirts with puffy paint as a way to remember their friend and *this* is not right, according to experts? Grief and coping come in many different forms. Let these poor kids choose how they want to handle this loss, puffy fabric paint and all.

    And to the school administrators who made these girls turn their shirts inside out or put duct tape over a dead child’s name, there has to be a moment when you look face yourself in the mirror, crisis management plans aside, and say to yourself “I am a total asshole.” Someone lost their child, these girls lost a friend. Share your condolences and ask if there’s anything you can do. Take your stupid plans and go smoke them.

  13. Beth November 14, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    I don’t understand the concept of “reminding” people of their grief. Not Sandy Hook style grief, but close, personal grief. I’ve heard people say of the parents of a child that died, “I don’t want to talk about my own kids who are the same age as their daughter who died, because I don’t want to remind them.”

    Trust me, they KNOW they had a child who died, and there’s no such thing as reminding someone of their grief or that the person who died existed.

  14. Really Bad Mum November 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    Rest In Paradise Jessie, we love you.

  15. Nicolas November 14, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    The psychiatric cult invariably does more harm than good. It bears most of the responsibility for the overdrugged, overprotected American child who is not supposed to cope with being alone at the bus stop, much less death.

  16. Art November 15, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    On Dec 1st, 1958, there was a massive fire at Our Lady of The Angels, a large Catholic elementary school in Chicago. 96 students died, including an entire class of 5th Graders. A class of 4th graders had to jump through a broken window 23 ft the sidewalk to escape. Fire was literally crawling along the ceiling above their heads.

    In the aftermath, the students were not allowed to talk about it, and the effects were devastating. PTSD and depression was common. The general public would often approach survivors and say “hey aren’t you that…?”

    One of the funniest yet heartbreaking stories to come out of this tragedy was when OLA students were farmed out to different schools while OLA was rebuilt.

    Some students immediately went to the windows to see how far how they had to jump. In one school, the fire alarm went off by accident and the OLA students broke all land speed records (Only stopping long enough to pick up siblings in other rooms) getting out. There are stories of panic attacks with a heater malfunctioned at one host school, and sent a burning smell through the building.

    However, many of the students had their original teachers from OLA at the host schools, and even then, they were told not to talk about it.

  17. EricS November 15, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    “Research and expert opinion”? Really. What yahoo did they consult? It’s proven fact that EVERYONE needs to grieve. It’s part of the human body to cope. When you take away that natural process, especially among children, you literally mess with their heads. Stupid adults seem to forget in their self-centered world, that children are like blank canvases. What you put on them is what they will carry with them as they get older. Their future (mentally and emotionally), will be based on these things they carry/learn. You want children, or do you want drones? I can’t believe these idiots call themselves educators.

  18. Walter Underwood November 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    Every school principal should be made to review Tinker v Des Moines. Students do not park their constitutional right to free speech at the boundaries of the school property. Even with the change of opinion, they should nail the “school officials” to the wall for this.

    This is free speech and the exceptions are very narrow.

    Let’s see some more reporting with names.

  19. Su November 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    I think there may be more to this than meets the eye. I know that in a lot of places including a school I used to work at, memorial T-shirts are banned because a gang will wear a memorial shirt (or have other memorials) to ‘remember’ a gang member that died in a gang conflict. Its used as a way of displaying your loyalties, and brings that element of society even more into the schools.

    I suspect the principal may have said “no t-shirts” in order to be consistent, then backed down and realized that allowing these t-shirts was more important than being consistent.

    Its a difficult subject. Allow just these kids, and its like saying a dead child’s life was worth less mourning because they were in a gang. Allow everyone, gang problems occur. Allow no one, deny these children their grief…a difficult problem.

  20. bw1 November 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    I suspect the about-face was because someone threatened legal action – Walter is correct that this flies in the face of Tinker v. Des Moines. Of course, the whole crisis team’s presence at the school is in conflict with the First Amendment, and more parents should be outraged about that. There’s no way you can bring in a crisis team that can address students’ feelings about the death of a classmate without depositing a huge steaming ideological turd on some students’ religious beliefs, especially given the variety of beliefs likely to be present in most schools these days. Dealing with this is the parents’ responsibility and doing so without state interference is their RIGHT.

    As for “research and expert opinion,” psychology is at best a pseudoscience and at worst a new age religion. There’s not a single social problem the social sciences claim to address that hasn’t historically increased in lockstep with the number and influence of psychologists and social scientists. About 10% of psychology is even remotely valid science, and even that assumes causality without any sound basis.