After losing six students to suicide over the past three years, Rapid City Area Schools are poised to adopt a new strategy that focuses on identifying students who are at risk of taking their own lives.
While the current policy favors a more reactive approach, RCAS Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Matt Seebaum said the updated version the board of education will vote on this month aims to prevent student suicides.
“We had a suicide policy in place before and this is essentially strengthening it," School Spokesperson Katy Urban said.
The new components of the policy represent the culmination of work that began in early 2017 to address a spate of student suicides that Seebaum said reached epidemic proportions. Three high school students died of suicide between July and September of that year and three more have died of it since.
More school employees, including social workers and resources officers, are to receive training on how to identify students who appear to be at risk for suicide under the new policy. Parents and guardians will also be notified when their child exhibits risk factors sooner than Seebaum said is now required.
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To assess a student's risk level, school social workers, counselors or psychologists will screen them using the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale, a widely-employed diagnostic tool that gauges the extent of an individual's suicidal ideation. Results are to be provided to a child's caretaker.
At the schools' direction, parents and guardians will be directed to take their children to a medical or mental health provider for further evaluation or treatment. They will also be given an acknowledgement form to sign.
School staff had already been required to follow up with parents and guardians after they had been notified of their child's risk of suicide, but under the new policy they would have to do so within one week. If a students need to be taken out of the school, staff will work with their families to develop a plan for re-entry. These steps represent a new emphasis on what is called "postvention," a term used to describe care given to individuals after they are found to be exhibiting suicidal tendencies.
School board members approved the framework of the policy on Monday night and are set to vote on its individual components, which include procedures and documentation forms, at their meeting on June 24.