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Bangor School Committee on track to pass suicide policy

Bangor Daily News - 13.02.2020

Feb. 13--Despite parents and two school committee members calling for more scrutiny and more public input, the Bangor School Committee is on track to adopt a newly developed suicide prevention policy for the school department.

At a meeting Wednesday night, the school committee voted in support of the policy drafted by Superintendent Betsy Webb. The committee has to vote for the policy once more before it's adopted.

Webb drafted the policy after parents and others who criticized the school department's response to a student's death by suicide in November called for one. While the school department had protocols it followed under its confidential emergency management plan, it had no policy outlining its general philosophy on suicide prevention and response.

The policy before the school committee is a pared-down version of a 38-page template developed by The Trevor Project, a national crisis intervention and suicide prevention group specifically for LGBTQ youth.

The draft policy addresses suicide prevention and intervention for at-risk students, and it explains some general steps a school would take after a student dies by suicide. It also lists resources that staff members and students can access for support and for help with discussing suicide.

However, it does not address how a school would communicate the news of a student's death by suicide, even though Bangor High School's use of the intercom to announce a student's death in November went against the advice of mental health experts and the recommendations in a nationally recognized tool kit.

"I have to say that, as a clinical psychologist, I was very disappointed to find that this document doesn't address what we all want: to protect our kids with procedures supported by readily available research," Bangor High School parent Clare Mundell said. "As a parent, I'm disappointed that the policy does not address the concerns that so many parents and others have voiced about actions to be taken after a death by suicide."

Mundell asked committee members to table the policy draft and form a suicide task force to work on a school department policy.

School Committee member John Hiatt made two separate motions to slow down the policy's development and adoption. The first was to table the acceptance of the suicide prevention policy draft and have the school committee hold a public workshop where members would hear public comment. The second motion was to form a suicide task force, as Mundell suggested. Member Marwa Hassanien seconded his motions, but after much debate, the four other school committee members present voted to pass the policy as drafted and not form the task force.

"Last night the school committee was given a chance to do a good and brave thing. We had a chance to hold a public workshop with public comment and talk about the difficult thing of suicide and how to prevent it," Hiatt said. "Unfortunately the committee was split and did not pass any of my motions. I hope that this issue continues to get attention and does not fall by the wayside like so much other stuff the committee says it will do but fails to follow up on."

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