State law mandates that all school districts, county offices of education and charter schools adopt policy on student suicide prevention, intervention and post-vention after consulting with specified stakeholders. Beginning in the 2020–21 school year, the policy must apply to all grades K–12.
A report issued by the California State Auditor’s office at the end of September found that the policy adoption requirement was met by the three school districts reviewed in the audit. They all used the December 2018 version of CSBA’s sample board policy and administrative regulation 5141.52 – Suicide Prevention, which the auditor’s office determined met all of the legal requirements for the policy. However, the districts did not consult with school and community stakeholders and suicide prevention experts in the development of their district policies, as required by law.
“Local educational agencies are reminded that all CSBA sample policies are intended to serve as templates, and districts are encouraged to give thoughtful consideration to revising the policies to meet local needs,” said Diane Greene, senior policy services consultant at CSBA. “In the case of suicide prevention policies, the law mandates that districts work with specified stakeholders to develop strategies tailored to their local circumstances. Although all districts should already have suicide prevention policies in place, the requirement to engage stakeholders applies to policy revisions as well.”
Pursuant to Education Code 215, the policy must be developed in consultation with school and community stakeholders, school-employed mental health professionals, suicide prevention experts and, for grades K–6, the county mental health plan. According to the Model Youth Suicide Prevention Policy issued by the California Department of Education, such stakeholders may include school counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, administrators, other school staff members, parents/guardians, students, local health agencies and professionals, law enforcement and community organizations. CSBA’s policy adds a recommendation to consult with the district’s risk manager or insurance carrier.
It may also be useful to consult with organizations that serve student groups who have been identified as being at higher risk of suicide, including students with disabilities, mental illness or substance use disorders; students who are experiencing homelessness or are in foster care; students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning; and students who are bereaved by a suicide. By law, the suicide prevention policy must specifically address the needs of these and any other groups of high-risk students.
There are a number of methods that may be used to gather input from stakeholders, using virtual meeting platforms as necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such methods include, but are not limited to:
- Establishing an advisory committee consisting of representatives of all stakeholder groups
- Holding individual meetings with health professionals, suicide prevention experts, and city or county agency officials
- Assembling focus groups
- Conducting public forums or hearings
- Sending surveys to parents/guardians, students and/or staff
- Reviewing publications issued by suicide prevention experts to identify recommended strategies
- Posting the local educational agency’s existing policy and regulation, or a draft showing the revisions that are being considered, on the LEA’s website and encouraging written comments
- Widely publicizing the suicide prevention policy prior to the board meeting at which the policy will be discussed, and encouraging members of the community to attend the meeting
Involving stakeholders in the development of suicide prevention strategies facilitates the identification and coordination of local resources, establishes clear roles and expectations for implementing strategies, and communicates the board’s commitment to student well-being. For examples of strategies and best practices that may be considered during the policy development process, see CSBA’s BP/AR 5141.52 (updated in March 2020), the CDE model policy available online at www.cde.ca.gov/ls/cg/mh/suicideprevres.asp, the State Auditor’s report available at www.auditor.ca.gov, and websites of organizations such as the American Association of Suicidology.