On June 26, 2014, Governor Corbett signed Act 71 of 2014, which codified school-based suicide prevention and education in public school districts. Act 71 directs all Pennsylvania school districts to adopt an age-appropriate youth suicide awareness, education, and prevention policy, and charges the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) with developing a model policy upon which school districts may base their individual policies. However, school districts must adopt, post online, and provide suicide prevention and education policies to employees and parents/guardians prior to the 2015-2016 school year. Because PDE has not yet posted its own “model” policy, school districts must draft these policies without PDE guidance. As a result, Stock and Leader offers the following guidance. Each school district’s policy must include:
A statement on youth suicide awareness and prevention: The district pledges a commitment to protecting students through its promotion of suicide awareness and education, in compliance with state regulations.
Protocols for staff to indicate who must receive suicide-specific education, as well as the duration and frequency of such training. Every five years, school districts must include four hours of such training in the professional development plan for educators in buildings serving students in grades six through twelve.
Protocols must also lay out how suicide prevention education will be incorporated into student curriculum. The law allows districts to incorporate a model curriculum to be developed by PDE. Because this model curriculum is not yet available, we advise you to consider how such education can be incorporated into your existing curriculum. PDE is also expected to make age-appropriate educational materials available on its website.
Prevention methods: Prevention methods must include procedures for early identification and referral of students at an increased risk of suicide.
Intervention methods: Intervention methods must incorporate procedures that address an emotional or mental health safety plan. Safety plans might involve the implementation of assessment tools, notification of parents, or contact with outside mental health providers to ensure proper support for students at an increased risk of suicide.
Response methods: School districts must identify protocols to be followed when a student or staff member completes or attempts a suicide.
Reporting procedures: Reporting procedures may include documentation and notification of attempts, threats and completed suicides within the school district, as well as to families, and/or community providers.
Program resources: School districts must provide a list of youth suicide awareness and prevention programs, including current contact information associated with each resource. These programs may be offered on a local, statewide, or national basis.
PDE, charged with developing a lot of material that is not yet available, assured Stock and Leader that these materials would be available through an “Act 71 webpage link” on PDE’s Safe Schools Office webpage by July 1, 2015. As of June 1, 2015, the Safe Schools Office page contains Suicide Prevention Resources for Schools, a listing of websites to visit for general information, a comprehensive school guide, training for school staff, material for students and postvention assistance, and links to some of the organizations that have developed a Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention.
We recognize you may be developing your suicide awareness and prevention policy in the upcoming months to ensure it is adopted for the 2015-2016 school year as required. Stock and Leader is able and willing to assist with drafting or reviewing your policy. Please contact the School Law Group if you would like our assistance in this matter.