Florida School Toolkit for K-12 Educators to Prevent Suicide

55. You have responded to many youth suicides and numerous suicide clusters. What has been frustrating? T here have been a few times when it was challenging to get the principal or superintendent to follow the recommendations in the After a Suicide: Toolkit for Schools . Additionally, a few parents, even after suicides of young people with a gun have occurred in their community, did not take steps to secure the guns in their home. It has also been challenging to increase the involvement of physicians in a community experiencing a suicide cluster. 56. Have any schools been found liable in court following the suicide of a student? How do schools protect themselves from a suicide liability lawsuit? V ery few schools have been found liable in civil court after the suicide of a student. The vast majority of the time schools have responded appropriately when a student is suspected of being suicidal. I was involved in one case, Wyke vs. Polk County Florida School Board, on the side of the plaintiff. The middle school administrator failed to notify the mother of Shawn Wyke that he was suicidal, and the court found the school one-third liable. There have been a number of cases settled out of court. Schools must notify parents if suicide is suspected, with only one exception: if abuse is suspected, state protective services must be called immediately. School personnel are encouraged to keep good records of parent notification of suicidal concerns. 57. What advice do you have for a principal if a student dies by suicide? The short answer is follow the recommendations in the After a Suicide: Toolkit for Schools . Remember to include school mental health staff members in every step of your planning. Also, be careful not to underestimate the impact of the suicide. One high school principal thought the impact of the suicide of a soccer player would be confined to the high school she attended. I pointed out that she played on an elite travel team with teammates from all across the city and her death did not just impact the high school she attended. 58. What if the parent tells me as the counselor that I cannot speak to their child about suicide? T his scenario has occurred most often when a parent is angry about being notified that their child is suicidal. The school principal needs to be consulted. The school policy should be that school counselors can—and will—talk to any student anytime we suspect them to be suicidal, and that parents will be notified after the initial suicide assessment was done by the counselor. A few states have legislation that clarifies this issue. 59. How much attention should a teachers pay to student writing and poetry about suicide? T he first suicide that I responded to in a school was nearly 40 years ago, and the teacher showed me two suicidal poems written by the suicide victim. I know that, all these years later, the teacher wishes that she had sat down to talk with the student about her thoughts, assure her that she is not the first student to feel this way, and to let her know that help is available and she can count on the teacher to be there every step of the way. Suicidal writing in a student’s class journal, and failure to notify his parents, were key issues in the 1997 lawsuit, Brooks vs. Logan. I strongly recommend that, if a student is writing about suicide, school referral procedures need to be followed, an initial school suicide assessment conducted, and parents notified. Florida S.T.E.P.S.