Wilton’s Board of Education initiated a program at its meeting Dec. 13 to protect students regarded as “at risk” or in “imminent danger” of hurting themselves or committing suicide.
Although the school board recognizes that social workers and mental health professionals are necessary to evaluate and handle serious cases of suicide, a new suicide prevention program will be initiated at the school level.
Staff will be trained to recognize “warning factors” and to understand appropriate intervention procedures, although the school board’s approved proposal clearly states that staff “cannot be expected to thoroughly evaluate and eliminate suicidal risk.”
In cases where potentially suicidal students are identified — by means of threats or attempts of “ideations” — staff are required to refer their observations to the school principal, who will then notify the Pupil Personnel Services staff, also known as PPS. According to the school board, information concerning a student will be shared only among necessary professionals and will remain confidential among concerned parties.
The school’s new plan to manage suicidal risk also includes a detailed procedure on the proper way to refer a case.
The process begins with alerting a principal and monitoring the concerned student; PPS staff members will then interview the student to form a thorough evaluation, determining if the student is “at risk” or in “imminent danger,” an acutely more serious problem.
“Imminent danger” is often used to describe a condition in which students describe detailed plans of suicide and exhibit feelings of pain and despair.
In such cases, PPS staff will not leave the student alone and parents or guardians will be asked to take the student to see a mental health professional. PPS staff will also inform parents or guardians of the appropriate steps to ensure their child’s safety. Meetings and resolutions are also to be documented for intervention reports.
In many cases in which parents or guardians are uncooperative, cases will be referred to the state Department of Children and Families, and in some cases police will be called.
When a student returns to school after being assessed as in “imminent danger,” staff will coordinate with professionals to monitor and accommodate the student’s needs. A PPS team member will generally be assigned to follow up and monitor the student, and documentation and meetings will be kept confidential.
“At-risk” cases, which are regarded as comparatively less severe, involve students who have thought about suicide but have not thought of a detailed plan and are willing to accept help. In such cases, staff will still contact parents or guardians and develop a “support plan,” which also seeks to use the resources of mental health professionals.
A staff member who becomes aware of a potentially suicidal student after regular school hours is required to call parents or guardians, the respective principal, police, the student’s therapist, if applicable, and the 211 infoline for emergency mobile crisis services.
In-service training for school staff will be conducted annually to discuss risk factors, danger signals, alarming behavior, and the recently approved referral procedures.