Skip to main content

San Diego County School Districts Under The Wire To Draft Suicide Prevention Policies

A flyer for a County Office of Education workshop says,

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: A flyer for a County Office of Education workshop says, "Pain isn't always obvious. Know the signs. Suicide is preventable," Aug. 4, 2017.

A new state law says school districts have until the start of this school year to draft a comprehensive policy addressing suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention — or what to do if a student dies by suicide.

When his friend at Poway High School died by suicide 20 years ago, Stan Collins did not hear much from his teachers.

“I just remember the trauma of sitting next to his empty desk the rest of the year,” Collins said. “Twenty years ago, schools were still in the mindset of if you talk about suicide it’s going to cause it to happen.”

Now Collins talks about suicide every day as a specialist with the San Diego County Suicide Prevention Council. And he is working to ensure school staff across the county know how to talk about it, too.

A new state law says school districts have until the start of this school year to draft a comprehensive policy addressing suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention — or what to do if a student dies by suicide.

Collins, as well as staff from the San Diego County Office of Education, helped write the model policy being used by districts statewide. It includes specific action plans for when a student is suicidal or attempts suicide on campus and an annual training plan for all school staff on recognizing risk factors and warning signs.

While teen suicide is relatively rare, about 20 percent of San Diego County middle- and high-schoolers say in school surveys they have contemplated suicide. About 30 percent report feeling chronic sadness or hopelessness in the last year.

San Diego Access and Crisis Line: (888) 724-7240

Heather Nemour, a student mental health specialist with the office of education, said suicide has risen from the third- to the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24.

“What we know is that when all staff are trained, or when a lot of staff are trained, on a school campus, it really enhances that school climate,” Nemour said. “And also being able to have many, many eyes on students.”

Nemour, along with Collins, is leading workshops to help districts draft their policies. So far, 11 out of the 42 districts in San Diego County have attended: Cajon Valley Union, Escondido Union High, Grossmont Union High, Lakeside Union, Mountain Empire Unified, National School District, Oceanside Unified, San Diego Unified, San Dieguito Union High, San Marcos Unified and the San Diego County Office of Education. Another workshop is scheduled for Sept. 13.

There is no funding to enforce the new law, meaning no agency is checking in on whether districts have adopted policies. But Collins said the law has teeth; districts that do not adopt policies face increased legal liability, he said. Collins encouraged parents to ask their children’s schools if a policy is in place and training has occurred.

“It’s important that we’re going beyond checking a box and are doing what’s right,” he said. “Keeping students safe is part of a school’s mission.”

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.