Reversing course, school board will allow yearbook memorial to central Nebraska girls killed in crash

Reversing course, school board will allow yearbook memorial to central Nebraska girls killed in crash
World-Herald News Service

CAIRO, Neb. — Centura supporters will enjoy reading every single page of the school’s yearbook this year.

Yielding to the wishes of the community, the Centura school board decided Monday night to allow memorials to two Centura junior girls in the 2017-18 school yearbook.

The school district, located northwest of Grand Island, recently told the parents of two students killed in a March traffic accident that they could not put specific “tributes” to students in this year’s school yearbook, citing concerns about the adolescent grieving process.

Thirteen people spent an hour talking about the issue at a special school board meeting attended by more than 100 people. Bailey Jean Packer, 16, and Navi Nielsen, 17, died following a March car accident.

Every speaker urged the board to allow memorials to the girls in the annual. Applause followed each speaker.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to let the parents purchase memorials in the yearbook. The two girls also will appear in photos of their sports teams and other activities. After the 6-0 vote, the audience responded with a standing ovation.

The speakers included Cory and Staci Nielsen, Navi’s parents, and Matt and Tara Schenk, who raised Packer since the fourth grade. Matt Schenk was Bailey’s uncle. Her mother has passed away.

Staci Nielsen cried as she told the board that instead of the administration trying to help find a way to include the memorials in the yearbook, “it feels like they were trying to figure out a way to stop it.” She said it was absurd that she was even having to deal with such an issue at this time, after her daughter has died.

Amanda Wilson said people “should be pulling together at a time like this, not dividing.”

Michelle Caspersen said she found it embarrassing “as a community that we have to put these two families through this. It’s not who we are.”

Centura school officials said last week that they were following not only school policy but also the training given to them by an authority on student grieving, John Dudley, a Lincoln-based author and consultant on how to handle school crises.

Centura Superintendent Julie Otero said Dudley advises that it’s “not the job” of school districts to memorialize students, and he recommends that districts immediately remove photographs and clean out lockers of deceased students because adolescents need “finality” when grieving.

Otero said that Dudley has trained dozens of school crisis teams across Nebraska. Centura High School Principal Tammy Holcomb said that 12 other area school districts have similar policies about yearbooks: no memorials.

Neither Otero nor Holcomb were at Monday night’s meeting.

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