BATTLE CREEK, Mich. – Inexperienced administrators at a Michigan school district admit they made a mistake earlier this week when they banned the tribute of a recently deceased classmate.
Caitlyn Jackson, a 12-year-old who was in the sixth-grade at Lakeview, died Saturday night after fighting with leukemia for several years.
Throughout her battle with cancer, Lakeview students and community members rallied around her and provided her family with encouragement and support.
On Monday morning, at least a dozen students decided to honor Caitlyn by wearing orange and blue shirts to school, many of these shirts had Caitlyn’s name printed on them. Blue was Caitlyn’s favorite color, while orange is the official color honoring leukemia victims.
Several of the shirts were from the various fundraisers and benefits the community had organized for the Jackson family. Other shirts were decorated over the weekend by students as a way to honor Caitlyn.
But what started as a heartwarming remembrance of a classmate and friend quickly turned into heartbreak and confusion.
According to WZZM13.com, when students arrived Monday morning, school administrators asked them to change the shirts, turn them inside out, or put duct tape over Cailtlyn’s name.
The rationale used by school administrators was that “permanent memorials” may remind students of their grief and potentially make it worse for others.
The district reportedly used its “crisis management plan” to make the decision on Sunday night but failed to communicate its decision to any parents or students.
The failure of communication, along with the poor decision making, may be a direct result of the absence of the school superintendent. Dave Peterson, the district superintendent, is out of the country exploring a possible student exchange program, according to WZZM13.com.
Amy Jones, the Lakeview finance director, is acting in his place until he returns.
In fact, the school district administration was so short-staffed that they had to bring in Chuck Rider, a retired school administrator, to help out while Peterson and others are out of the country.
The administrators who remained in the district said that the decision was handled “compassionately.”
“The intent was designed to protect the interests of all children,” Jones said.
However, the mother of the student who passed away, Melinda Jackson, certainly did not feel any compassion from the school.
“That hurt me to the point that I didn’t think I could be hurt anymore,” Jackson said.
Friends and classmates of Caitlyn were also understandably upset.
“It made me feel really bad that I couldn’t express myself for Caitlyn,” said 11-year-old Jaidyn Bellinger, who received a lunchtime detention over the shirt. “I wanted to let people know how bad it feels to lose someone like that.”
To their credit, district officials met with Caitlyn’s family on Monday afternoon and decided to allow the shirts to be worn on Tuesday.
But the damage had already been done.
The officials also acknowledged Monday that their good intentions backfired, according to the report.
“Certainly the intent of our decision was good,” Jones said. “Probably the ramifications of our decision caused more disruption than if we had let kids wear the shirts in the first place.”
Jones also conceded that “hindsight is 20-20,” and that the district should better communicate expectations with parents ahead of time.
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