COEUR d’ALENE — As students return to school after the Christmas break, suicide prevention remains a top priority at the Coeur d’Alene School District. With that goal in mind, trustees and Superintendent Steve Cook debated a possible change to district policies Monday night.
District policy 3530 currently says that district employees do not have a duty to warn about the suicidal tendencies of a student “absent the teacher’s or school district’s knowledge of direct evidence of such suicidal tendencies.”
However, trustees here discussed a revision that would alter that, stating “Teachers or school districts with knowledge of direct evidence of a student’s suicidal tendencies have a duty to warn.” It would also direct the superintendent to create procedures related to suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.
School district lead nurse Nichole Walters Piekarski said the intent of the policy is to allow for a wide variety of circumstances that may be encountered in district schools.
She added that the district doesn’t want district employees to make mental health decisions if they’re not mental health professionals.
Cook said the policy is one aspect on the continuum of care, and the revised policy gives more flexibility to deal with suicidal ideations and post-intervention.
District employees should “Just tell somebody so we can intervene on behalf of these kids,” he said.
Board chairman Casey Morrisroe said he loved what the district staff had done with the policy, but worried that it was not clear enough. He didn’t want staff members to feel uncomfortable trying to make a decision when there are others more qualified to make that judgment, he said.
Board member Tom Hearn, who spent years of his professional career helping those with mental health issues, said the staff needs specific procedures to follow in order to protect them in the event that something does happen. Parents will want to know if they followed procedure, he said.
Cook said by getting too precise with procedures staff members with no expertise will be forced to make judgments they’re not qualified to make. They may resort to turning every situation over to the attention of the principal, as well as law enforcement, he said.
Fellow board member Jennifer Brumley said imposing a duty to warn on staff members may cause them to act out of fear for legal consequences to them. Most people will go to law enforcement and other officials, she said, which may escalate situations that could have otherwise been effectively handled with a minimal amount of intervention.
Cook said a committee would look at the proposed revision some more, specifically the duty to warn language. The proposal will be a topic of discussion at next month’s regular board meeting, said Morrisroe.