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New law calls for schools to instruct 8th to 12th graders in coping with grief


Schools in New Jersey now have to teach students about grief and how to handle it. Under a new law this goes for 8th through 12th graders, who will learn about the physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of grief and about how to cope.

Veronica Ortiz is the training and education director at Imagine, a center for coping with loss based in Mountainside. She said the last few years have been filled with loss.

“What happened during the pandemic is that it certainly opened up the doors for other folks to kind of recognize that we are experiencing grief and that our kids are experiencing grief as well,” she said.

The law provides for mental health crisis support as well as individual and group therapy in schools.

Statistics show 1 in 13 children in New Jersey experience the death of a parent, brother or sister before age 18.

Ortiz said it’s important to find healthy ways to deal with grief.

“If we want to mourn our losses by running a marathon or giving to a charity or volunteering at an organization that reminds you of the person who died, that’s what we want to be able to see happen with our kids,” she said, adding that many times behavioral problems in school can be traced to grief.

Elizabeth King is a social worker in Newark who lost a son at age five. She works in schools where she sees kids dealing with grief, but not always with death.

“I have children who come into my office and they’re dealing with grief due to a parent being incarcerated,” she said. “I have other children who come into my office and they’re dealing with grief in that they’ve lost their house due to some unforeseen event.”

While King said she applauds this law, she said she'd like to see younger children included. After seeing how other small children have dealt with the loss of her son, she said, kids should learn about grief and how to handle it long before 8th grade.

Janice Kirkel is a lifelong award-winning journalist who has done everything from network newscasts to national and local sports reports to business newscasts to specialized reporting and editing in technical areas of business and finance such as bankruptcy, capital structure changes and reporting on the business of the investment business.