JLBDA: INTERVENTION, PREVENTION AND POSTVENTION SUICIDE POLICY
The Lexington Public Schools recognizes its role in promoting the health and well-being of all students and staff, and assisting students and staff in dealing with the suicide of a student. The suicide of a student has an impact on the whole school community. In support of this policy, Lexington Public Schools has developed procedures to prevent, assess the risk of, intervene in, and respond to suicide. The district:
(a) recognizes that physical, behavioral, and emotional health are integral components of a student’s education,(b) recognizes that suicide is a leading cause of death among young people,(c) has a commitment to take a proactive approach in preventing suicide, and(d) acknowledges the schools’ role in providing an environment that is sensitive to individual and societal factors that place youth at greater risk for suicide, and one that helps to foster positive youth development.
This policy covers actions that take place at school, at school-sponsored functions and activities, on school buses or vehicles and at bus stops, on social media, and at school sponsored out-of-school events where school staff are present. This policy applies to the entire school community, including all district staff, and volunteers.
As part of the Lexington Public Schools Intervention, Prevention and Postvention Suicide Policy and Administrative Guidelines, access to school-based mental health services and supports directly improves students’ physical and psychological safety, academic performance, cognitive performance and learning, and social–emotional development. School-based mental health professionals (counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses) work to provide services that are high quality, effective, and appropriate to the school context. These professionals can support both instructional leaders’ and teachers’ abilities to provide a safe and supportive school environment for all students.
Having school-based mental health professionals as integral members of the school staff empowers principals to more efficiently and effectively deploy resources, ensure coordination of services, evaluate their effectiveness, and adjust supports to meet the individual needs of their students. Improving access allows for enhanced collaboration with community providers to meet the more intensive clinical needs of students.
* The Superintendent will follow the Administrative Guidelines associated with this policy.
Legal Ref: MGL c. 69 s. 1P MGL c. 71 s. 37Q
Section 1. PARENT NOTIFICATION AND INVOLVEMENT
Parent/guardian involvement will take place as per the Lexington Public Schools Self-Injury and Suicidal Ideation Response Protocols.
Section II. PREVENTION
1. District Policy Implementation: The Superintendent or designee shall be responsible for planning and coordinating implementation of this procedure for the school district.2. Staff Professional Development: Staff will be provided information and training on the Intervention, Prevention, and Postvention Suicide Policy and the Self-Injury and Suicidal Ideation Response Protocols.3. Youth Suicide Prevention Programming: Students will be provided developmentally appropriate, student-centered education materials integrated into the K-12 curriculum. The content of these age-appropriate materials will include the importance of safe and healthy choices and coping strategies. Support is also provided for students through counseling services, student programs and collaborative partnerships with town and community organizations.
Section III. ASSESSMENT AND REFERRAL
When a student is identified by a staff person as potentially suicidal (e.g. talks about being suicidal, presents overt risk factors such as agitation or intoxication, or an act of self-harm occurs), or a student self-refers, or referred by a peer, the Lexington Public Schools' Self-Injury and Suicidal Ideation Response Protocols will be implemented, including but not limited to calling 911. *
Section IV. IN-SCHOOL SUICIDE ATTEMPTS
In the case of an in-school suicide attempt, the health and safety of the student is paramount. The Lexington Public Schools' Self-Injury and Suicidal Ideation Response Protocols will be implemented, including but not limited to calling 911.
Section V. RE-ENTRY PROCEDURE
For students returning to school after a mental health crisis (e.g. self injury, suicide attempt, or psychiatric hospitalization), the Self-Injury and Suicidal Ideation Response Protocols re-entry protocol will be implemented.
Section VI. 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:
1. Call the police and/or emergency medical services, such as 911.2. Inform the student’s parent or guardian, the principal and the Director of Counseling.
If a student contacts a staff member from an out of school location and expresses suicidal ideation, the staff member should try to maintain contact with the student while enlisting the assistance of another staff member to contact the police. Parent/guardian, principal and the Director of Counseling will be notified.
Section VII. POSTVENTION
1. Development and Implementation of an Action Plan: The crisis team will develop an action plan to guide school response following a suicide. A meeting of the crisis team to implement the action plan should take place immediately following news of the suicide. The action plan may include the following steps:
a) 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.b) Assess the situation. The crisis team will meet 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. The crisis team will also consider other recent traumatic events within the school community and the time of year of the suicide.c) Share information. Before the death is officially determined 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 the cause is unknown. Inform the faculty that a sudden death has occurred. Write a statement for staff members to share with students. The statement should include the basic facts of the death (without providing details of the suicide method), known funeral arrangements, 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. With permission and input from the Parents/Guardians, the crisis team may prepare a letter 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.d) 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 suicide. The crisis team will work with teachers to identify students who are most likely to be significantly affected by the death. In the staff meeting, the crisis team will review suicide warning signs and procedures for reporting students who generate concern.e) Initiate support services. Students identified as being more likely to be affected by the death will be assessed according to the Suicidal Ideation Response Protocol. The crisis team will coordinate support services for students and staff in need of individual and small group counseling as needed. In concert with parents or guardians, crisis team members will refer to community mental health providers to ensure a smooth transition from the crisis intervention phase to meeting underlying or ongoing mental health needs.f) Develop memorial plans. The school should not create on-campus physical commemoration (e.g. photos, flowers, jerseys, plantings, benches), 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; however students choosing to attend the funeral should be excused from school on that day. Any school-based events (e.g. small gatherings) will include a focus on how to support and prevent future suicides, and prevention resources will be available.
2. External Communication: The Superintendent or designee will be the sole media spokesperson. Staff will refer all inquiries from the media directly to the spokesperson. The spokesperson will:
a) Keep the Director of Counseling and school principal informed of school actions relating to the death.b) Prepare a statement for the media regarding postvention plans, interventions, and resources that are available for students and faculty. A referral will be made to the Town of Lexington Human Services Department, who will provide resources to support families and community members.
Section VIII. DEFINITIONS
1. At risk: A student who is defined as high risk for suicide is one who has made a suicide attempt, has the intent to die by suicide, or has displayed a significant change in behavior suggesting the onset or deterioration of a mental health condition. The student may have thought about suicide including potential means of death, and may have a plan. In addition, the student may exhibit feelings of isolation, hopelessness, helplessness, and the inability to tolerate any more pain. This situation would necessitate a referral, as documented in the Self-Injury and Suicidal Ideation Response Protocols.
2. Crisis team: A multidisciplinary team of primarily administrative, mental health, and safety professionals, whose primary focus is to address crisis preparedness, intervention/response, and recovery. These professionals have been specifically trained in crisis preparedness through recovery, and take the leadership role in developing crisis plans, ensuring school staff can effectively execute various crisis protocols, and may provide mental health services for effective crisis interventions and recovery supports.
3. Mental health: A state of mental and emotional being that can impact choices and actions that affect wellness. Mental health problems include mental and substance use disorders.
4. Postvention: Suicide postvention is a crisis intervention strategy designed to disseminate factual information after a suicide, reduce the risk of suicide and suicide contagion, provide support needed to help survivors cope with a suicide, and address the social stigma associated with suicide.
5. Assessment: This is completed by appropriate school staff (e.g. counselor or social worker) and is designed to elicit information regarding the student’s intent to die by suicide, previous history of any suicide attempts, presence of a suicide plan and its level of lethality and availability, presence of support systems, and other relevant risk factors. This assessment is not a mental health assessment to assess whether or not the student is considered to be “suicidal.”
6. Risk factors for suicide: Characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to end his/her life by suicide. Suicide risk tends to be highest when someone has several risk factors at the same time. Risk factors may encompass biological, psychological, and or social factors in the individual, family, and environment.
7. Self-harm: Behavior that is self-directed and deliberately results in injury or the potential for injury to oneself can be categorized as either nonsuicidal or suicidal. Although self-harm often lacks suicidal intent, youth who engage in self-harm are more likely to attempt suicide.
8. Suicide: Death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior.
9. Suicide attempt: A self-injurious behavior for which there is evidence that the person had at least some intent to kill himself or herself. A suicide attempt may result in death, injuries, or no injuries.
10. Suicidal behavior: Suicide attempts, intentional injury to self associated with at least some level of intent, developing a plan or strategy for suicide, gathering the means for a suicide plan, or any other overt action or thought indicating intent to end one’s life.
11. Suicide contagion: The process by which suicidal behavior or suicide influences an increase in the suicidal behaviors of others.
12. Suicidal ideation: Thinking about, considering, or planning for self-injurious behavior, which may result in death. A desire to be dead without a plan or intent to end one’s life is still considered suicidal ideation and should be taken seriously.
* The Lexington Public Schools' Self-Injury and Suicidal Ideation Response Protocols were developed during 2014-2015 by a multidisciplinary committee comprised of members from the Counseling, Special Education, Nursing and METCO departments in coordination with our district consulting psychiatrist and school attorney.
* This Policy was amended from The Model School Policy. The Model School Policy was developed in partnership by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The Trevor Project, American School Counselor Association, and National Association for School Psychologists. The Model School Policy is research-based and outlines comprehensive model policies and best practices resulting in a national framework for school districts to follow to protect the health and safety of all students.
Lexington Public Schools, Lexington MA
Adopted by Lexington School Committee: March 21, 2016