If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at (888) 568-1112 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).
Almost two months after parents called on the Bangor School Department to adopt a suicide prevention policy following a student’s death by suicide, Superintendent Betsy Webb will present the newly developed guidelines to the school committee at a Wednesday night meeting.
Parents and experts who criticized Bangor High School’s response to the student’s suicide in November 2019 called the policy a good first step.
“The purpose of this policy is to protect the health and well-being of all students by having procedures in place to prevent, assess the risk of, intervene in, and respond to suicide,” the document reads.
Bangor School Committee members will review the recommended policy and offer feedback at Wednesday’s meeting.
The draft policy addresses suicide prevention, outlines how schools will intervene with students thought to be at risk of attempting suicide and explains general steps a school would take after a student dies by suicide. It also lists state and national resources that staff members and students can access for support and for help with discussing suicide.
Some who criticized the school’s response in November pointed out that Bangor High School’s announcement to parents about the student’s suicide included no information about how parents could discuss suicide with their kids.
The policy does not address specific modes of communication a school would use to tell students of a peer’s death by suicide. Bangor High School’s use of the intercom in November went against the advice of mental health experts and a nationally recognized tool kit that helps schools respond to suicides.
“It doesn’t get down to the granular level, but it does address the steps that need to be taken,” Greg Marley, the clinical director of the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said of Bangor’s draft policy.
Bangor’s new policy is a pared-down version of a 38-page national template available on The Trevor Project’s website. The Trevor Project is a national crisis intervention and suicide prevention group specifically for LGBTQ youth.
Webb said she did research and found the national policy because the Maine School Boards Association did not have an official suicide prevention policy template for districts to follow.
“This is a national effort — a model to be implemented at the state and national levels,” Trevor Project spokesperson Rob Tedaro said. “Not all of [the school districts] get to every part of the model. It really depends on the reality of the state and what is viable at the time.”
Webb met with parents and administrators to gather feedback before developing the policy.
“It is our desire to always work with the community and parents and school board members,” Webb said. “The ultimate goal is to improve clarity.”
Webb met with parents Marcella Kenny and Clare Mundell, who both previously expressed their concerns about Bangor High School’s communication about the student’s suicide in November and the lack of a school department suicide prevention policy. The school department had protocols it followed under its confidential emergency management plan but no policy outlining its general philosophy on suicide prevention and response.
“It is a good starting point but needs to address postvention,” Kenny said. “I have other questions regarding the body of the policy, but am very heartened that Dr. Webb and the school committee members are moving forward with establishing a policy, especially since it is not mandated by the state.”