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School board discusses suicide prevention plan

By Kim Walter

When Warren County School Board members presented their reports from seminars they attended during the Virginia School Board Association convention, suicide preventions plans were brought up, resulting in a discussion on the importance of having such a process in place.

During last week's work session, Chairman Catherine Bower explained that Loudoun County schools were taking extra steps to combat youth suicides.

"Suicide is the third leading cause of death among persons aged 15 to 24 years old, accounting for 20 percent of all deaths annually," Bower said.

Loudoun County's 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey produced some alarming results, as students reported that 15.8 percent seriously considered attempting suicide, up from 13.8 percent. Additionally, 12.8 percent made a plan about how they would attempt suicide -- a 2 percent increase from the previous survey.

"In Virginia, it's the 11th leading cause of death," Bower said.

While females are more likely to report having had suicidal ideation, and are twice as likely to attempt suicide; males are five times more likely to actually die from an attempt, she added.

"Loudoun County has implemented a seven-step approach to combat the issue," Bower said. "The reality of it is that it should always be taken seriously, and school systems are being sued and losing because of lack of communication."

The seven-step procedure involves identifying and reporting an at-risk student, supervising the student, suicide risk screenings, making appropriate contact, meeting with parents, holding a follow-up meeting and maintaining documentation.

"That was one thing they stressed, was how important it is to document the communication," Bower said.

Board member Joanne Cherefko quickly asked what the current process is in Warren County schools.

Superintendent Pamela McInnis explained that the division has a suicide prevention process in its policy manual.

"We do have a protocol for counselors in place, and we work closely with Northwestern Community Services and the hospital," she said. She added that if a student makes some kind of threat to himself while in school, the child is taken to the hospital by a law enforcement officer.

The policy says that if a student has indicated that the reason for attempting suicide relates to parental abuse or neglect, contact will be made with the local department of social services. The person giving the notice should also "stress the need to take immediate action to protect the child from harm."

Documentation is also part of the policy, and requires recording the time and date of a phone call, the individual contacted, that person's response and anticipated follow up.

Adult supervision is required until a parent of guardian or other authorized individual accepts responsibility for the student's safety.

According to Loudoun County's presentation, over 90 percent of students who participated in the depression awareness suicide prevention program would recommend it. The youth suicide rate in the county is the fourth lowest out of the state's 35 health districts.

Bower said this issue is not going away, "and I just wanted to bring attention back to it."

She added, "Some of these numbers are scary, but I'm glad that we do have guidelines in place."

McInnis said the policy is revisited on an annual basis.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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