By Paul Myers
exeter – In early March of this year the work of a Fresno County Deputy Coroner, Clovis Unified school psychologist and Exeter Unified Director of Special Education and Support Services Aimee Miculian converged to save the lives of three girls contemplating suicide. The convergence of law enforcement, Clovis Unified Schools, and ultimately Miculian was a result of investigative work following the suicide of a Clovis high school boy.
Every suicide is followed by an investigation searching for reasons why, and when one Deputy Coroner searched through the boy’s phone he discovered a thread of texts from three girls and the recently deceased boy. By the end Miculian was the nearest line of defense as she opened a message in her inbox that included Clovis Unified, the coroner’s office, the Tulare County Office of Education and a crisis response team.
“When I looked at the email chain and saw all of the names…I thought someone is doing good detective work,” Miculian said.
According to EdSource’s article California law spurs reforms after suicide cluster that documented the boy’s death by suicide and search for the girls contacting him, Miculian’s email identified the three high school girls. She moved on to notify the school counselors, who started calling the students out of class or calling them at home.
But while the chain reaction of respondents was swift, the numbers of death by suicide rank second among teens 15-19 years old. And for the same age group 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 6 boys reported seriously considering attempting suicide, according to a WestEd survey in 2011 through 2013. Introducing a way to address suicidal ideations, California Education Code section 215, as part of Assembly Bill (AB) 2246 mandates, “That the governing board of any local educational agency…in grades seven to twelve…adopt a policy on pupil suicide prevention, intervention and post-vention.”
Miculian and her two school psychologists Marlain Jensen and Danielle Torres are considered the task force for carrying out the Education Department’s mandate. Miculian says that the prevention, intervention and post-vention policy needs to be ready within the 2017-2018 school year, but it does not have to be fully formed at the beginning of the year. But in order to get started she says there is a lot of educating to do when it comes to the public. That is why, according to the overall strategic plan for suicide prevention within the Education Code’s policy, there is a need to invite mental health professionals, teachers, students, parents, guardians, local health agencies and professionals, law enforcement and community organizations, to help evaluate and implement the District’s strategy.
Miculian says that she has already put out surveys to local health providers getting their feedback on strategic messaging over suicide and policy implementation. Other people who have received the survey are School Resource Officer Kyle Stark and several parents have expressed interest as well.
“We need to work as a community to provide services to the whole child. And we want to reach out to families that are touched by suicide, and that goes beyond the school,” Miculian said about inviting the community to weigh in on the policy.
But not only is the community involved, teachers are being trained to look out for signs of suicide. According to the policy, at least annually all staff will receive training on risk factors and warning signs of suicide, suicide prevention, intervention, referral and post-vention.
New teachers will receive training when they are hired and annual trainings will review previous and new data that will look for patterns of prevalence or occurrence of suicide ideation, attempts, or death. Staff will also be trained on common misconceptions about suicide, school and community suicide prevention resources, factors associated with suicide and how to identify youth who may be at risk of suicide.
“[The suicide policy] brings another level of awareness to our staff and helps them identify signs of students that could be struggling with life and remind us of our role as examples for our kids,” said EUSD superintendent Tim Hire.
The suicide policy will also be in the parent handbook and be displayed on the EUSD web site, and according to Hire, the more information parents and teachers share the better off they both can be for their student.
“We are on the same team when it comes to what’s best for your child…and if there is an absence of information we can’t be a resource for you or your child,” Hire added.
Students will also receive student-centered education about the warnings signs of mental health challenges. They will also be able to learn about coping strategies, recognize warning signs and life issues associated with suicide and help-seeking strategies for themselves or others.
Most schools already have an intervention strategy when it comes to suicide but under AB2246 there are some changes in terms of liaisons while also constructing a prevention strategy.
“We want to make sure that we have intervention practices in place. But it’s almost like a parallel…really we want to make sure we have the intervention while we educate on prevention,” Miculian said.
She added that intervention involves the mental-health team, a referral to Sequoia Youth Services who is the local health service provider who can determine whether someone is 5150. The parents of the student will also be notified if that is in the best interest of the student.
Miculian adds that post-vention involves how to tell students, how to memorialize the person who had passed. But the other reason is to stop what has been deemed contagion, where students engage in suicide as a result of another person’s suicide.
“It’s a healing process and some closure…and of course we want to do anything to stop [contagion],” Miculian said.