Ana Kriégel case highlights how schools cope with ‘critical incidents’

The school where her murderers went has been supporting students through the year

Ana Kriégel. Photograph: RTÉ News

Ana Kriégel. Photograph: RTÉ News

 

At the secondary school where the boys convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Ana Kriégel were pupils, this was yet another traumatic week in a year where the case has rarely been out of the headlines.

Since last year, the school has been in regular contact with pupils and their parents with text messages on how to look after themselves, letters on where to seek counselling and offers of support from staff.

“At one point, the teachers accompanied the pupils going home on the bus, which was a nice touch,” says one education source.

“There was a prayer room set up so pupils could light candles. There have been lots of letters home asking parents to keep an eye on children and with lists of support numbers and to contact the school if there are any concerns . . . they have been very supportive from the word go.”

One source has particular praise for the school chaplain, who has been available to any students struggling to come to terms with the circumstances surrounding Ana’s death.

Another says teachers and school leaders have gone to huge lengths to prepare pupils for the latest developments in the case.

Last Friday, for example, senior staff warned pupils of looming publicity linked to this week’s sentencing of the boys convicted of her murder.

“The advice really was to look out for each other, and to be extremely sensitive about posting material on social media,” says one source.

The secondary school in question – which cannot be named for legal reasons – has declined to comment.

Unprecedented circumstances

But professionals with expertise in dealing with traumatic incidents in educational settings say this school has to deal with the kind of unprecedented circumstances that are not set out in any detailed guidebooks.

In education circles, a “critical incident” is regarded as situation that overwhelms the normal coping capacity of a school.

They typically ranges from the death of a member of the school community through illness, suicide or accidental death, to physical assaults or serious damage to school property.

Usually, this involves a visit from the National Educational Psychological Service (Neps), which advises school leaders on how to respond and how to provide signposts for supports.

“When they wrote this guidance, they never envisaged this kind of situation,” says one professional involved in responding to critical incidents.

“There is advice on how to respond to a violent death – but not where the perpetrators are in the school, which raises entirely different questions . . .”

Unlike a sudden death, the trial of two boys found guilty of her murder and their convictions has meant that the issues have dominated the media on-and-off over the past year or so.

“There is likely to be a need for proper psychological support in a case like this, which may be outside the realm of regular educational psychology,” says one professional. “That means linking in with the HSE and child and adolescent mental health services.”

Nonetheless, official guidance on how to respond to different traumatic incidents tends to be rooted in a similar set of responses.

Neps guidelines state that, overall, young people need support from the adults who know them best.

“Their teachers have invaluable experience, competence and skills in dealing with children and young people and, in partnership with parents, are the best people to provide this support,” it states.

Its advice for teachers and school leaders is generally to give the facts and dispel rumours; to encourage students to share their thoughts or feelings; and advise students about social media use.

“You want to offer non-judgmental listening and letting pupils know that it’s okay to feel like they do,” says one professional.

“It’s about letting students know that the reactions or symptoms in most cases will go away in time. If the symptoms haven’t gone after a few weeks, they should let teachers or their parents know.”