On Jan. 4, Gov. Phil Murphy signed S3330/A5015, which requires New Jersey’s public schools to provide students in grades 8-12 with instruction on grief. The curriculum will be in accordance with the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.

“Grief can be a debilitating experience that lasts a lifetime when not addressed properly,” Murphy said in a press release issued Jan. 4. “Having lost my parents, other family members, dear friends and loved ones, I understand the pain grief can hold on a person. It is my hope that prioritizing the teaching of grief and loss in schools will provide students with the tools and resources they need to cope with the challenges of life.”

As an elementary school educator in Perth Amboy for more than 30 years, AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera witnessed the various ways students process grief “from turning inward to acting out.” She credits the state Legislature and New Jersey Department of Education for enacting several initiatives during the pandemic “to support and encourage our students toward a more positive mental health status.” 

“A curriculum to understand how to cope with grief is just another strategy in this wellness effort,” Chiera said Jan. 8. “We will advocate that the curriculum on grief include strategies for coping with the various stages in the process and also provide additional personnel resources for students who need them. The classroom teacher needs to be part of the student support team and not the person who is solely responsible for implementing a ‘grief’ plan.”

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