Protocol for Responding to the Death of a Student

Protocol for Responding to the Death of a Student


Approved by: Vice-Provost (Student Affairs)
Policy Effective Date: September, 2017
Last Revised: August 10, 2018
Distribution: Public
Signatory:    Vice-Provost (Student Affairs)
Applicable Policies: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA),  Awarding Degrees in Extraordinary Circumstances. Standard Operating Procedure in the Event of a Student Death
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1.0  Purpose

When the University is faced with the death of one of its students, it is important that a compassionate, coordinated, and timely response occurs, appropriate to the circumstances and consistent with the wishes of the family. This document is intended to provide guidance to those responding to the death of a student, and to provide the broader community with an overview of the University’s response.


2.0 Scope 

This document is intended to provide guidelines for responding to the death of an enrolled student.  The University may have a smaller role to play in the event of the death of a student between semesters or a recent graduate.

3.0 Guiding Principles 

While the nature of a student death may vary, the University will be guided by the following principles:

  1. Respect and dignity for the student and the family’s wishes.
  2. Concern for the well-being and support of current students and the campus community.
  3. Discretion in the disclosure of information and compliance with all relevant legislation.
  4. Cooperation with external officials as required and compliance with all relevant legislation.
  5. Transparency as appropriate, while respecting the principles cited above.



4.0 Initial Response 

The Vice-Provost, Student Affairs (VPSA) is responsible for the coordination of the internal administrative response and supports following the death of a student. Typically, a coordinator will be assigned to manage the details relating to support for the family and students impacted by the death.  Human Resources and Faculty and Academic Staff Relations will coordinate support for faculty and staff impacted by the death.

The following immediate steps will be taken if the death occurred on campus:

  1. The University will initiate established protocols to secure the area and activate the appropriate emergency procedures.  This may include but is not limited to notification to Guelph Police Services, activation of the Emergency Campus Control Group, an alert through Emergency Notification System, and temporary closure of a building/area.
  2. The Director of Campus Community Police (CCP) will notify the VPSA who will inform other Senior Leadership as appropriate.
  3. An initial communication will be put out by campus police, in consultation with Communications and Public Affair that a death has occurred on campus and is being investigated. 
  4. Resources will be provided to support witnesses and close friends.
  5. If necessary, alternative accommodations will be accessed for those immediately impacted.
  6. Initial communication to the immediate family is the responsibility of the Guelph Police. The University will not release information prematurely to respect this process and family members.  CCP or designates will ask any witnesses to also be respectful of this process and refrain from posting information on their personal social media site until an official announcement has been made.

 5.0 Secondary Response

The following will occur once the scene has been contained, if an on-campus death, or for a death off-campus.

5.1 Internal Communication 

  1. Although a timely and coordinated response is necessary, the University will first and foremost respect the needs of the family.  As such, the University will not normally release the name of the student until it has received confirmation that the family has been informed. There may be times due to the public nature of a death that the name may already be known. In these instances, the University will work with those impacted but encourage the information not be distributed through informal media. 
  2. Prior to obtaining consent and formal communication, only those University staff members who are on a need to know basis will be informed. Once the family is informed additional faculty and staff will be informed as required depending upon the nature of the student’s engagement on campus and/or individuals and communities impacted.
  3. Normally, the family will determine what information will be released. This information is managed by a Coordinator assigned by the VPSA. To respect the privacy and confidentiality of the situation, normally details included in the University’s communication will only include the student name, program and year of study and the information released by the family, usually in the form of an obituary. However, additional information may need to be released if information has already been published by the media, including but not limited to the nature of the death. In the case where the University is asked for public comment prior to obtaining such information from the family, the designated University spokesperson will publicly explain that it does not release such informaton without family consent.
  4. Except when there are compelling reasons not to do so, news about the death of a student will be communicated to the university community via a campus news item posted on the University of Guelph intranet.  Postings will include links to counselling resources for students, faculty and staff and will include a link to the Death of a Student Protocol.
  5. The University will take steps to acknowledge the student’s contributions to the campus community, normally and when possible, through the lowering of the flag on the day of the memorial service, as well as a tree recognition ceremony in the Arboretum in the fall for those students who died in the previous academic year.  If the memorial service for the student is held on a weekend, the University’s flags will normally be lowered on the following Monday. If the University is informed after a service has occurred, the flags will be lowered after the fact.
  6. A coordinated effort will occur to provide supports and services to those university members affected by the death.
  7. There will be appropriate and timely handling of the student’s personal records and information.

5.2 Roles and Responsibilities

Associate Vice-President (Student Affairs): Normally the AVPSA will act as the primary contact person between the University and the student’s family. The University will respect the family’s wishes regarding the level of contact or engagement.

Student Affairs Case Manager (SACM): The SACM will arrange for support services and campus resources for students impacted. The SACM will also work closely with Human Resources and the Office of Faculty and Academic Staff Relations to arrange support services for affected faulty or staff. 

Communications and Public Affairs (CAPA):  CAPA will be the first point of contact for external media. All media requests shall be directed to the Director, News Service.  The University does not publicly communicate information regarding the death of a student until the family has been informed and provided guidance on how they wish to proceed with any communication.  As a result, the timing and content of the University’s communications will not necessarily mirror general media reports or personal social media sharing.  In certain circumstances, there may be occasions when the University deems it necessary to communicate information about a student death before the family releases funeral details. Such action will only be taken when deemed appropriate/necessary by the AVPs. Communications and Public Affairs will work closely with the AVPSA and the Coordinator to understand the unique circumstances that might warrant such communication.  This may include potential public concerns, the immediate family’s wishes, safety interests and the need to extend resources.

While the intranet is the official vehicle for the University to report a death, social media use among the University community following an unexpected and distressing incident is unavoidable. The University has established policies and procedures to foster the sharing of accurate and beneficial information.  Social media may also be used as a tool to offer support to students who may be struggling.  The University will also monitor social media for safe and positive messages.

6.0 Ongoing Supports

A student death can affect the community long after the memorial service.  The University has several support services and initiatives that are available to those looking for ongoing support, including: 

  • The Coordinator will work with campus stakeholders to provide appropriate counselling supports and resources for specific groups or individuals. 
  • The Coordinator, in coordination with the VPSA and appropriate campus departments will arrange for posthumous academic awards, degrees/diplomas, and/or Convocation as appropriate.
  • The Coordinator will work with the appropriate departments or faculty to provide support to students requiring administrative or academic accommodations.

7.0 Debrief 

Where appropriate, a Critical Incident Review may be facilitated among University stakeholders to review this Protocol and associated procedures.  Additional debriefing exercises are also encouraged among those directly involved and impacted.