BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The board of education held a moment of silence in memory of Bridgewater-Raritan High School junior Francine Wang, who died Jan. 27 in Chimney Rock Park.
Superintendent Russell Lazovick thanked district staff and others who came together to support students, parents and administration in the wake of the tragedy.
“The staff really did step up,” he said, citing the grief counseling available, as well as information provided for support and grief resources. “We have to make sure we are having these kinds of conversations with our students, and when something like this happens, it makes people question what more we can do.”
Lazovick said he would like to direct people to the health and wellness action team, where there are people focused on assisting with mental health issues and determining better ways to help the students.
“But I want to thank the staff and everyone who stepped up to support each other,” he said.
Wang, 16, was found dead the evening of Jan. 27 after being reported missing around Chimney Rock Park at 2 a.m. that morning.
According to a report on the Bridgewater Township Police Facebook page, the investigation has not yielded anything suspicious regarding the manner of death, and there was no threat to the community. The investigation is continuing, and police have requested that the family's privacy be respected at this time.
Muirfield Lane resident Rama Rao expressed his thanks at the board of education meeting for the work the staff and teachers have been doing. But his daughter, a junior at the high school he said, questioned whether dealing with the death of a student changes the way a school recognizes this kind of tragedy.
“The way the school communicated it was a bit like, ‘hey, there’s a snow day,’” he said. “What I do want to say is I want to thank all the grievance counselors who did a terrific job.”
“But the question we should ask ourselves as parents is why does this happen,” he added. “One is too many.”
Rao said he is wondering if the schools held a moment of silence, or what was or is being done to remember Wang and her contributions to the school community.
“On the one hand there is peer pressure, and that is always there,” he said. “I also think there is some reflection the school needs to do from the home and school perspective.”
“I want to ask, how is a life remembered here, and what are we going to do with the future to change what has happened here?” he added.
Board president Jill Gladstone said the health and wellness action team is dealing with topics related to substance abuse, mental health, suicide and more.
Lazovick said this is a terrible situation for everyone, and there are specific best practices for how districts are allowed to respond to it.
“When this occurred, we worked with law enforcement and staff, and had emergency meetings on the day we returned,” he said. “We had to give out specific steps so the teachers knew what they should and should not be doing.”
Lazovick said they have to be careful with what they say and do because this kind of situation does not impact everyone in the same way.
“We have opened avenues to be able to process the situation,” he said. “If people think we didn’t do things appropriately, we need them to reach out.”
“The number one thing we are encouraging people to do is if they notice something, we need them to speak out,” he added. “The teachers are unbelievably involved, and we are trying to make it clear what everyone should do with this information.”
Lazovick acknowledged that it was an incredibly difficult time for everyone.
“I hope everyone understands that the staff felt this deeply,” he said. “We have to protect every single student, every parent, every staff member.”
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