Suicide Prevention Policy
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Suicide Prevention Policy
Our suicide prevention policy has guidelines for suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. It covers actions that take place in the school, on school property, at school-sponsored functions and activities, and at school sponsored out-of-school events where school staff are present. It applies to the entire school community, including educators, school and district staff, students, parents/guardians, and volunteers. It also cover appropriate school responses to suicidal or high risk behaviors that take place outside of the school environment.
Staff Professional Development
All staff will receive annual professional development on the problem of youth suicide, common risk factors related to youth suicide, successful strategies for youth suicide prevention, the immediate steps a staff member should take if they encounter a student who is threatening suicide, and best practices for intervention after a suicide (“postvention”).
Youth Suicide Prevention Programming
Developmentally-appropriate, student-centered education materials will be integrated into our health curriculum. The content of these age-appropriate materials will include:
- The importance of safe and healthy choices and coping strategies.
- How to recognize risk factors and warning signs of mental disorders and suicide in oneself and others.
- Help-seeking strategies for oneself or others, including how to engage school resources and refer friends for help.
In addition, schools may provide supplemental small group suicide prevention programming for students.
Publication and Distribution
This policy will be distributed annually.
Assessment and Referral
When a student is identified by a staff person as potentially suicidal, i.e., verbalizes about suicide, presents overt risk factors such as agitation or intoxication, the act of self-harm occurs, or a student self-refers, the student will be seen by a school employed mental health professional within the same school day to assess risk and facilitate referral. If there is no mental health professional available, a school nurse, Executive Director or other designee will fill this role until a mental health professional can be brought in.
For youth at risk:
- School staff will continuously supervise the student to ensure their safety.
- The Executive Director will be made aware of the situation as soon as reasonably possible.
- The school employed mental health professional or Executive Director will contact the student’s parent or guardian, as described in the Parental Notification and Involvement section, and will assist the family with urgent referral. When appropriate, this may include calling emergency services or bringing the student to the local emergency department, but in most cases will involve setting up an outpatient mental health or primary care appointment and communicating the reason for referral to the healthcare provider.
- Staff will ask the student’s parent or guardian for written permission to discuss the student’s health with outside care, if appropriate.
In-School Suicide Attempts
In the case of an in-school suicide attempt, the health and safety of the student is paramount. In these situations:
- First aid will be rendered until professional medical treatment and/or transportation can be received, following district emergency medical procedures.
- School staff will supervise the student to ensure their safety.
- Staff will move all other students out of the immediate area as soon as possible.
- If appropriate, staff will immediately request a mental health assessment for the youth.
- The school employed mental health professional or Executive Director will contact the student’s parent or guardian, as described in the Parental Notification and Involvement section.
- Staff will immediately notify the Executive Director regarding in-school suicide attempts.
- The Executive Director will engage as necessary staff to assess whether additional steps should be taken to ensure student safety and well-being.
For students returning to school after a mental health crisis (e.g., suicide attempt or psychiatric hospitalization), a school employed mental health professional, the Executive Director, or designee will meet with the student’s parent or guardian, and if appropriate, meet with the student to discuss re-entry and appropriate next steps to ensure the student’s readiness for return to school.
- A school employed mental health professional or other designee will be identified to coordinate with the student, their parent or guardian, and any outside mental health care providers.
- The parent or guardian will provide documentation from a mental health care provider that the student has undergone examination and that they are no longer a danger to themselves or others.
- The designated staff person will periodically check in with student to help the student readjust to the school community and address any ongoing concerns.
Out-of-School Suicide Attempts
If a staff member becomes aware of a suicide attempt by a student that is in progress in an out-of-school location, the staff member will:
- Call the police and/or emergency medical services, such as 911.
- Inform the student’s parent or guardian.
- Inform the school suicide prevention coordinator and Executive Director.
If the student contacts the staff member and expresses suicidal ideation, the staff member should maintain contact with the student (either in person, online, or on the phone). The staff member should then enlist the assistance of another person to contact the police while maintaining verbal engagement with the student.
Parental Notification and Involvement
In situations where a student is assessed at risk for suicide or has made a suicide attempt, the student’s parent or guardian will be informed as soon as practicable by the Executive Director, designee, or mental health professional. If the student has exhibited any kind of suicidal behavior, the parent or guardian should be counseled on “means restriction,” limiting the child’s access to mechanisms for carrying out a suicide attempt. Staff will also seek parental permission to communicate with outside mental health care providers regarding their child.
Through discussion with the student, the Executive Director or school employed mental health professional will assess whether there is further risk of harm due to parent or guardian notification. If the Executive Director, designee, or mental health professional believes, in their professional capacity, that contacting the parent or guardian would endanger the health or well-being of the student, they may delay such contact as appropriate. If contact is delayed, the reasons for the delay should be documented.
The Executive Director will complete, or designate the completion, of the following steps:
- Verify the death. Staff will confirm the death and determine the cause of death through communication with a coroner’s office, local hospital, the student’s parent or guardian, or police department. Even when a case is perceived as being an obvious instance of suicide, it should not be labeled as such until after a cause of death ruling has been made. If the cause of death has been confirmed as suicide but the parent or guardian will not permit the cause of death to be disclosed, the school will not share the cause of death but will use the opportunity to discuss suicide prevention with students.
- Assess the situation. The Executive Director will meet with staff to prepare the postvention response, to consider how severely the death is likely to affect other students, and to determine which students are most likely to be affected. Staff will also consider how recently other traumatic events have occurred within the school community and the time of year of the suicide. If the death occurred during a school vacation, the need for or scale of postvention activities may be reduced.
- Share information. Before the death is officially classified as a suicide by the coroner’s office, the death can and should be reported to staff, students, and parents/guardians with an acknowledgement that its cause is unknown. Inform the faculty that a sudden death has occurred, preferably in a staff meeting. Write a statement for staff members to share with students. The statement should include the basic facts of the death and known funeral arrangements (without providing details of the suicide method), recognition of the sorrow the news will cause, and information about the resources available to help students cope with their grief. Public address system announcements and school-wide assemblies should be avoided. The Executive Director may prepare a letter (with the input and permission from the student’s parent or guardian) to send home with students that includes facts about the death, information about what the school is doing to support students, the warning signs of suicidal behavior, and a list of resources available.
- Avoid suicide contagion. It should be explained in the staff meeting described above that one purpose of trying to identify and give services to other high risk students is to prevent another death. The Executive Director will work with teachers to identify students who are most likely to be significantly affected by the death. In the staff meeting, the Executive Director will review suicide warning signs and procedures for reporting students who generate concern. The Executive Director should also review these warning signs and procedures in the event of a suicide occurring on another school campus that is co-located with the school.
- Initiate support services. Students identified as being more likely to be affected by the death will be assessed by a school employed mental health professional to determine the level of support needed. The Executive Director will coordinate support services for students and staff in need of individual and small group counseling as needed. In concert with parents or guardians, the Executive Director will refer to community mental healthcare providers to ensure a smooth transition from the crisis intervention phase to meeting underlying or ongoing mental health needs.
- Develop memorial plans. The school should not create on-campus physical memorials (e.g. photos, flowers), funeral services, or fly the flag at half-mast because it may sensationalize the death and encourage suicide contagion. School should not be canceled for the funeral. Any school-based memorials (e.g., small gatherings) will include a focus on how to prevent future suicides and prevention resources available.
The Executive Director or designee will be the sole media spokesperson. Staff will refer all inquiries from the media directly to the spokesperson. The spokesperson will:
- Keep the Superintendent or designee informed of school actions relating to the death.
- Consult the Director of Government Affairs or Manager of Communications before engaging in any external communication.
- Prepare a statement for the media including the facts of the death, postvention plans, and available resources. The statement will not include confidential information, speculation about victim motivation, means of suicide, or personal family information.
- Answer all media inquiries. If a suicide is to be reported by news media, the spokesperson should encourage reporters not to make it a front-page story, not to use pictures of the suicide victim, not to use the word suicide in the caption of the story, not to describe the method of suicide, and not to use the phrase “suicide epidemic” – as this may elevate the risk of suicide contagion. They should also be encouraged not to link bullying to suicide and not to speculate about the reason for suicide. Media should be asked to offer the community information on suicide risk factors, warning signs, and resources available.