School Safety Experts Opine on Student Suicide Prevention Protocols

School Safety Expert WitnessThis academic affairs case involves a male student who committed suicide at a private boarding school. The student had a long history of emotional instability as well as a long disciplinary record, and was on academic probation at the school at the time of the incident. On the day of his suicide, the student had been informed that he was to be expelled from the school following a violent outburst towards his math teacher the previous day. The student then climbed to the fourth floor of the school’s library, which had an open atrium, and jumped to his death within the atrium. The library was, notably, the site of other successful and unsuccessful suicide attempts by other students in previous years.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. What self-harm prevention protocols do you recommend for residential schools?
  • 2. Have you ever published or lectured on this subject?

Expert Witness Response E-142634

Self-harm and suicide prevention protocols are comprehensive and should address students at all stages of self-harm. In a residential setting, a safety plan should be in place for all residents, as well as a thorough intake risk assessment for self-harm and suicidal behavior. In addition, self-harm and suicide intervention strategies should be on the forefront of residential staff to ensure the safety and mental well being of the youth. With this student also being likely diagnosed with a learning disability, establishing therapeutic practices that demonstrates the students’ ability to implement the established self-harm/suicidal behavior protocol should be also documented. I have published in this area and provide workshops at the American Association of Suicidology on school-based suicide prevention/intervention and postvention at their annual conference. I have also written extensively about suicide prevention in schools, with several book chapters and articles in this area.

Expert Witness Response E-142647

I have a very long background in suicide prevention, having authored my first book on suicide intervention in the schools in 1989. I subsequently have co-authored four books and numerous chapters on this subject. In addition I have also co-authored the Suicide Safer School Plan for my state and am currently working on the Suicide Crisis Response Plan for another adjacent state. I believe I’m in a very unique position to evaluate protocols, procedures and training that may or may not have been in place in this particular residential school at the time of the incident. It is very interesting that other students have previously jumped from the atrium. In this situation, it is important to determine what the school did after the first student jumped from the atrium. The proper protocol would be to discuss what happened, secure the window, talk with students who may have seen the incident, and try to prevent the same type of incident from happening again by implementing a detailed aftermath plan. It is also important to evaluate the lines of sight and how the school is built in order to properly implement school safety.


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