SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17109
CRISIS MANAGEMENT OF A PERSONAL, SCHOOL RELATED TRAGEDY
The Susquehanna Township Board of School Directors resolves to provide appropriate action in addressing dysfunctional or self-destructive adolescent behaviors by establishing guidelines and procedures for:
(1) Identifying problems before a crisis situation has been reached
(2) Recommending appropriate interventions
(3) Management of any crisis or tragedy situation which might occur
Guidelines for identification, intervention, and postvention activities are set forth in the administrative procedures part of this policy. The building principal will be responsible for their implementation by the student assistance team, or, if the building has no SAT, the child study team.
In the event of a school crisis or tragedy, the school board authorizes the building principal to immediately take action to protect the confidentiality of the family involved and the rights of the student body in regard to press or media coverage. Specific steps to calm the situation are outlined under administrative procedures.
The Board of School Directors recognizes that all school personnel should be alert to the warning signs of childhood and adolescent suicide. Teachers and staff having knowledge of “at risk” students will report to the principal immediately. The principal or his/her designee shall notify the student’s parents or guardian and their cooperation shall be sought for immediate intervention.
Guidelines and procedures contained in this policy attempt to address the collective concerns for the health and well-being of the youth of this school district and to prevent the occurrence of a crisis or tragedy. The Board of School Directors, however, recognizes that childhood and adolescent suicide is an intentional and voluntary act, the warning signs of which are not always detectable and are often ambiguous. The inclusion of specific response actions contained in this policy shall not be construed so as to impose on the Susquehanna Township School District, its Board of School Directors, administrators, staff employees, agents or other persons any affirmative duty, responsibility or other action recognized under law to prevent the suicide of any individual. By enacting this policy, the Board of School Directors disclaims any and all liability or responsibility for any action taken or not taken under this policy by any administrator, staff employee, agent, or other person.
IDENTIFICATION OF RISK
I. If any Susquehanna Township School District employee has reason to believe that a student is considering suicide, these procedures must be followed:
A. Administrative Procedures
1. All staff members are responsible for reporting any student who may be considering suicide to the building principal and counselor immediately. A verbal report must be followed by a written statement.
2. The building principal or his designee will: (a) Interview the student; (b) Inform parents of the situation; (c) Call an emergency meeting of the student assistance or child study team; (d) Request confidential reports from teachers.
II. The student assistance team will assess the seriousness of the situation, and determine, based on the following factors, a plan of action to be followed:
A. HIGH RISK: (one or more indicators are present: some threat of suicide through explicit statements, feelings of hopelessness, a detailed suicide plan, written statements, history of a previous attempt, chronically self-destructive lifestyle combined with severe loss, anniversary of a loss, inability to accept help, lack of adequate support system and/or method of suicide is available.)
1. A serious attempt should be made to keep a responsible adult with the student at all times.
2. The parent must be notified immediately by the principal or his designee. If parents cannot be reached or if they refuse to cooperate, Dauphin County Services for Children and Youth, 780-7200, should be informed while proceeding with steps 3 through 5.
3. Immediately contact Crisis Intervention at 232-7511.
4. The physical process of uniting the client with Crisis Intervention must be clearly established.
5. The student may be released only to a parent or legal guardian or in the case of a medical emergency, to the hospital or emergency medical personnel (ambulance).
6. The counselor will assist parents by suggesting appropriate agencies/psychiatrists for evaluation of risk. The outcome of the evaluation and a written recommendation from the mental health provider for the student’s return to school should be presented to the building principal or Director of Pupil Services before the student is allowed to return to school. If the parent has not followed through with an evaluation and its recommended treatment plan, the matter will be referred to the Superintendent’s office for a hearing.
B. MEDIUM RISK: (Some threat of suicide through explicit statements, no concrete plan, does not have a method for completing an attempt, probably lacking any support form a professional or significant other, and/or has not exhibited any radical behavior changes.)
1. Parent must be notified by principal or counselor.
2. Student and parent must be made aware of available community assistance in an emergency. If the family says that a mental health agency (person) has been contacted, the student’s counselor must contact the agency. If the parent refuses to follow through on the team referral to a mental health agency, this must be documented in writing. The team will decide whether to refer the case to Dauphin County Services for Children and Youth or the Superintendent’s office for a hearing.
3. Every effort will be made to provide supportive assistance on a daily basis until such time as the student is no longer considered a medium risk.
C. LOW RISK: (Indicators: vague feelings of hopelessness, no explicit written or verbal threat, signs of
1. Referral is made to the student’s school counselor who should give immediate support and refer the student to the student assistance team.
2. Options for the counselor to consider:
a. Help the student plan positive activities.
b. Notify the parent of the student’s depressed mood and suggest counseling. Ask if the parent is
concerned about the student. Determine whether the parents are observing the same behavior.
c. Provide follow-up
(1) Supportive individual counseling
(2) Group discussions to raise self-esteem and lessen depression
(3) Teacher support
3. Support and assistance will be given by the team as deemed appropriate by the school counselor.
The Director of Pupil Services will serve as a consultant and resource person through all levels of this process. When a principal is unavailable to oversee these administrative procedures, the Director of Pupil Services will be called to assume responsibility for implementation either in person or by naming a counselor as designee. When cased are referred to the Superintendent’s office, the Director of Pupil Services will be responsible for setting up the hearing and representing the Superintendent, if necessary.
If a student or staff member would make an attempt to commit suicide during school hours on school grounds, the following procedures will be implemented:
1. Staff members who observe or are contacted relative to an attempted suicide should attempt to intervene immediately, realizing that in some cases this may not be possible. If the injury is potentially life threatening, emergency personnel should be contacted via 911 (for an ambulance and Crisis Intervention). At this point, policy #5150 should be implemented.
2. The staff member who made initial contact with the victim or was informed of the situation shall notify the principal, who will inform the Superintendent. The principal will contact the school nurse, Director of Pupil Services and appropriate members of the student assistance team (depending on availability). In addition, the principal will contact parents or guardians. The team should identify and locate any school-age siblings in order to take appropriate action following consultation with parents or guardians.
The principal, following consultation with the Director of Pupil Services and the Superintendent, will notify the police department.
3. A staff member will remain with the victim at all times. In the event that the incident has occurred in an area where there is considerable student traffic, and the victim is not able to walk to a more private area, the principal will direct staff to move other students to an auxiliary area in order that the situation may be handled in an expeditious fashion. In the event that students witnessed the event, they shall receive counseling form a member of the student assistance team.
4. If the victim requires treatment in a hospital, the school nurse or a designated staff member will accompany the individual.
5. In the event that the victim is a student, the principal will contact and meet with his/her counselor and a representative form Crisis Intervention and consult with the Superintendent prior to making an announcement, if any, to the student population. The principal shall decide if postvention procedures are to be implemented. All available student assistance team members shall be utilized to help support students and staff during this traumatic time.
6. The student assistance team shall meet the morning following the incident to determine if additional postvention procedures should be involved.
7. A student or staff member who has made a suicide attempt will be allowed to return to school upon the recommendation of a psychiatrist. Homebound instruction will be provided upon the request of the parent with supporting data from a psychiatrist. Assuming the suicide attempt did not occur at school, the student should be returned to the normal routine within the school as soon as possible.
8. Staff members, expressing concern or reservations about the reinstatement of the individual, should be encouraged to discuss their feelings with members of the student assistance team. Director of pupil services shall identify resource people with whom staff can confer on an ongoing basis.
9. An appropriate guidance counselor and/or member of the student assistance team will monitor, in an unobtrusive fashion, the progress of the targeted student (staff member). It is recommended that the principal meet with teachers, nurses, and coaches in order to assess the student’s overall adjustment.
10. Parental or guardian contact must be ongoing in an effort to provide the student and family with adequate support services. Documentation of home contacts shall be forwarded to the Director of Pupil Services so that an accurate record of school involvement can be maintained.
11. As in the postvention procedures, media contacts, if any, will be conducted through the Superintendent’s office. Media representatives will be denied access to the students during the school day. In addition, the principal shall inform students of their right to refuse to be interviewed off school property by media representatives.
ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES FOR MANAGEMENT OF A CRISIS, SCHOOL RELATED TRAGEDY
The following procedures have been developed recognizing that the impact of a suicide or tragedy (i.e., unintentioned deaths, including natural, accidental and homicidal) on the school district and community will be far-reaching and painful. They are designed to assist designated staff members (teachers, counselors and nurses) in reacting swiftly and effectively in providing appropriate services to faculty and students.
A. Communication Plan
In the event of a suicide or tragedy, relative to a student or staff member, the following procedures will be implemented:
1. The Superintendent of Schools, Director of Pupil Services and building principal shall be notified immediately.
2. The building principal has the responsibility to immediately inform the counselor, nurse, members of the student assistance team, and teachers of the deceased (should this be a student).
3. The principal will contact the family in order to provide support and to obtain any information, which the family wishes to share relative to the tragedy.
4. The principal will not share information concerning the tragedy with the media. Neither will he/she allow media representatives into the building for the purpose of interviewing staff or students. The principal shall inform students regarding their right to refuse to be interviewed off school property. All contact with the media will be coordinated by the Superintendent or his/her designee.
B. Action Plan
1. The building principal shall meet with the faculty prior to the opening of school to provide accurate information and appropriate plans for the school day. The Director of Pupil Services will be present to serve as a resource person and answer questions from the staff.
2. Additional staff members will be assigned to the building affected by the incident, in order to assist in dealing with the general school situation and any individual problems that may arise. Trained counselors from MH/MR and other agencies will be requested.
3. Substitute teachers may be employed the day following a school tragedy if needed to fill in for members of the student assistance team who are to be counseling, monitoring and intervening with targeted students and staff.
4. Staff members are encouraged to be helpful by providing understanding to those expressing grief, confusion, anger and abandonment.
5. Students who were close friends of the victim should be identified and counseled by a member of the student assistance team and referred to Crisis Intervention if deemed appropriate.
6. A counselor or team member will be available in a designated location of the building to provide students with a place and an opportunity to discuss their feelings. Staff members should permit any student who expresses a need for this service to go to the area for counseling.
7. Grieving students should be encouraged to continue with their normal schedule as soon as possible, following their contact with a member of the student assistance team.
8. A normal class schedule shall be in place on the day immediately following the tragedy.
9. Students shall not be excused from school without written permission from parents who must also indicate that parental supervision will be provided and sustained.
10. The building principal, Director of Pupil Services and members of the student assistance team shall meet at the end of the school day to evaluate the general school atmosphere and the action plan in an effort to determine if additional intervention is appropriate or necessary.
C. Follow Up Activities
1. A counselor or member of the student assistance team shall contact the victim’s family to offer supportive counseling and/or referral to outside agencies when deemed appropriate.
2. Counselors, Student Assistance Team members and other designated staff members will be given an opportunity to discuss the situation with individual students or small groups of affected students during a two week period or when deemed necessary.
3. Staff should be alert for other “At Risk” students and refer them to the appropriate counselor or a student assistance team member.
4. When, in the judgment of the Director of Pupil Services, principal, member of the student assistance team or counselor, meetings with classmates, friends and siblings are deemed appropriate, the following student needs must be considered and acted upon:
a. Knowledge of all the facts.
b. Opportunities to discuss feelings of loss.
c. Opportunities to discuss the good and bad characteristics of the victim.
d. Opportunities to participate in discussions relative to depression, death and suicide.
e. Adult support network for those who were close friends with the victim and who appear to be having
difficulty in dealing with their grief.
5. Substitute teachers shall be utilized to fill in for members of the student assistance team, if in the opinion of the Director of Pupil Services or building principal, an additional day of group counseling is deemed appropriate.
6. Close friends, siblings, relatives and any students exhibiting overt emotional distress are to be counseled individually and referred for outside consultation if warranted. Those students who are identified as emotionally distraught shall be monitored and provided support services according to their needs for an appropriate period of time, recognizing that the loss of a close relationship can induce prolonged depression.
7. In the case of any school tragedy there is predisposition to place the situation in its most positive light and to respect the memory of the deceased. In the case of suicide, however, it is important not to legitimatize this method of dealing with one’s problems. To do so may risk further suicidal actions by impressionable individuals. In an effort to dissuade such actions, the following guidelines shall be implemented:
· Schools shall remain open and follow a regular schedule.
· All school activities shall be carried out in routine fashion.
· Avoid dedicating yearbooks and/or other publications to the deceased.
· Avoid accepting a bequest from the family or friends of the individual to establish, in the immediate future, a memorial, scholarship or other worthwhile program in the name of the deceased.
· Avoid placing a plaque in the school in memory of the deceased.
· Do not name an object, building, etc., in memory of the deceased.
· Avoid any other action, which may be interpreted as legitimizing or respecting the use of suicide as a solution to one’s problems.
Approved by the School Board – January 9, 1989