District Protocol on Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, & Postvention
Adapted from Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention. Endorsed by: ASCA, AFSP, NASP, and the Trevor Project
The purpose of this protocol is to protect the health and well-being of all district students by having procedures in place to prevent, assess the risk of, intervene in, and respond to suicide. The district: (a) recognizes that physical, behavioral, and emotional health is an integral component of a student’s educational outcomes, (b) further recognizes that suicide is a leading cause of death among young people, (c) has an ethical responsibility to take a proactive approach in preventing deaths by suicide, and (d) acknowledges the school’s role in providing an environment which is sensitive to individual and societal factors that place youth at greater risk for suicide and one which helps to foster positive youth development. Toward this end, the protocol is meant to be paired with other policies supporting the emotional and behavioral health of students more broadly. Specifically, this protocol is meant to be applied in accordance with the district’s Child Find obligations.
This protocol 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. This protocol applies to the entire school community, including educators, school and district staff, students, parents/guardians, and volunteers. This protocol will also cover appropriate school responses to suicidal or high-risk behaviors that take place outside of the school environment.
- District Protocol Implementation: District administration will inform school principals of the expectation that suicide prevention protocol will be presented to all staff, certified and classified, during the “back to school” building-level professional development. Each school principal will act as a point of contact for issues relating to suicide prevention protocol implementation. All staff members shall report students they believe to be at elevated risk for suicide to the school counselor, social worker, or building principal.
- Staff Professional Development: All staff will receive annual professional development on risk factors, warning signs, protective factors, response procedures, referrals, postvention, and resources regarding suicide prevention. The professional development will include additional information regarding groups of students at elevated risk for suicide, including those living with mental and/or substance use disorders, those who engage in self-harm or have attempted suicide, those in out-of-home settings, those experiencing homelessness, American Indian/Alaska Native students, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) students, students bereaved by suicide, and those with medical conditions or certain types of disabilities. Additional professional development in risk assessment and crisis intervention will be provided to school counselors and social workers.
- Suicide Prevention Programming: Developmentally-appropriate, student-centered education materials will be integrated into the health curriculum. The content of these age-appropriate materials will include: 1) the importance of safe and healthy choices and coping strategies, 2) how to recognize risk factors and warning signs of mental disorders and suicide in oneself and others, 3) help-seeking strategies for oneself or others, including how to engage school resources and refer friends for help. In addition, schools may provide supplemental individual or small group suicide prevention programming for students.
- Publication and Distribution: This protocol will be distributed annually at “back to school” building-level professional development and included in all student and teacher handbooks and on the school website.
Assessment and Referral
When a student is identified 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 counselor or social worker within the same school day to assess risk and facilitate referral. If there is no school counselor or social worker available, an administrator will fill this role until a school counselor or social worker can be brought in.
For students at risk:
- School staff will continuously supervise the student to ensure their safety.
- The principal will be made aware of the situation as soon as reasonably possible.
- The school counselor, social worker, or principal will contact the student’s parent or guardian, as described in the Parental Notification and Involvement section, and will assist the family with an 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 student.
- The school counselor, social worker, or principal will contact the student’s parent or guardian, as described in the Parental Notification and Involvement section.
- Staff will immediately notify the principal or school counselor or social worker regarding in-school suicide attempts.
- The school will engage, as necessary, the crisis team 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), the school counselor, social worker, or principal will meet with the student’s parent or guardian and student to discuss re-entry and appropriate next steps to ensure the student’s readiness for return to school. A parent’s or guardian’s unavailability to meet should not delay the student’s return to school.
- A school counselor, social worker, 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 evaluation and that they are no longer a danger to themselves or others.
- A designated staff person will periodically check-in with the student to help with the readjustment 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 or if a student contacts a 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, the staff member will:
- Call the police and/or emergency medical services, such as 911.
- Inform the principal.
Parental Notification and Involvement
In situations where a student is determined to be at risk for suicide or has made a suicide attempt, the student’s parent or guardian will be informed as soon as possible by the principal. If the student has exhibited any kind of suicidal behavior, the parent or guardian should be counseled on “means restriction,” limiting the student’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 principal, school counselor, or social worker will assess whether there is further risk of harm due to parent or guardian notification. If the principal, school counselor, or social worker 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.
Development and Implementation of an Action Plan: The crisis team will develop an action plan to guide school response following a death by suicide. A meeting of the crisis team to implement the action plan should take place immediately following news of the suicide death. The action plan is outlined in the GFPS Crisis Response Manual.