Inside L-S: School Board passes policy to address suicide awareness, prevention, and response

One year ago today, on September 16, 2014, Lampeter-Strasburg junior Juliet Benson committed suicide, becoming the second L-S student to do so in the last few years. As the community grieved her loss, several changes -- including the founding of the Aevidum club (which will be further addressed in a subsequent article) -- were made in an effort to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.

Juliet Benson
One such change happened just last week. Perhaps fittingly -- it occurred during National Suicide Prevention Week -- last Tuesday, September 8, the L-S Board of School Directors adopted a new policy entitled "Suicide Awareness, Prevention, and Response". Pursuant to a state mandate, the policy includes additional procedures in training staff and educating students, as well as mobilization of additional resources in terms of response.

The policy stipulates that students "shall receive age-appropriate education" including information on recognizing risk factors and how to engage school resources.

Dr. Andrew Godfrey, assistant superintendent at L-S, says that although the state mandate requires such education in grades 6-12, "Topics may be appropriately integrated into guidance lessons at the elementary level."

The policy also enumerates several support staff positions -- secretaries, coaches, bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers -- who will be empowered to help prevent youth suicides. In addition, middle school and high school teachers will receive four hours of suicide awareness and prevention training every five years as part of their professional development.

In terms of suicide prevention, each building will appoint a suicide prevention coordinator "to act as a point of contact ... for issues relating to suicide prevention and policy implementation." These coordinators will include building administrators, school psychologists, guidance staff, and social workers. The policy goes on to list several risk factors and warnings signs for suicide.
Dr. Andrew Godfrey, assistant
superintendent at L-S

The policy also outlines methods for intervention from the school perspective, which can include intervening in potential suicides happening outside of school.

"We will do what is in the best interest of a student," Godfrey says. "If information is received at school by a staff member, we will follow this policy and provide appropriate support to that student."

Each school has a crisis response/intervention team, which again consists of psychologists, counselors, social workers, special education consultants, and Mrs. Karen Staub, supervisor of special education. That team is responsible for responding to suicidal attempts and developing the next steps in the event of a mental health crisis.

The policy concludes with a listing of resources relating to suicide prevention and mental health.

"The well being of our students is a top priority," Godfrey says. "This policy will enable us to further educate our students, staff, and community to bring awareness to those who may need help."

Editor's Note: This is the third installment in our series "Inside L-S", which aims to shed light in to the deepest issues that face our students, schools, and community. The theme for September is mental health. For more of our series, please see our Inside L-S page.

--Benjamin Pontz, Editor-In-Chief

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