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SFUSD to streamline suicide prevention efforts targeting middle and high schoolers

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Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death for teens in the United States. In 2015, 13.5 percent of S.F. high schoolers surveyed made plans to attempt suicide. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

The San Francisco Board of Education on Tuesday approved a policy on suicide prevention targeting students in grades 7 through 12 in schools throughout the district.

Adoption of the policy will ensure the San Francisco Unified School District’s compliance with a state law, Assembly Bill 2246, which passed in 2016.

The “model youth suicide prevention policy” was born out of a concerted effort by parents, educators, mental health specialists and legislators to prevent youth suicides in California, which — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — remain a leading source of death among youth nationwide.

The new policy would require the district’s superintendent to develop localized strategies around prevention, intervention, postvention and around identifying suicidal behavior and associated mental health challenges among students.

The policy, among other things, calls on the district to work with local government and community organizations in identifying additional resources, and requires each school to identify a staff member as the district’s suicide prevention point of contact.

All levels of school staff, including substitutes, volunteers and coaches, will be subjected to annual training under the direction of school-employed mental health specialists. Individual schools will be required to identify action plans for addressing in-school and out-of-school suicide attempts, and to put in place a reentry process for students returning to school after.

The school district’s most recent data on suicide trends dates back to 2015. In that year, the percentage of high school students surveyed who had seriously considered suicide hovered at 12.5 percent, while 13.5 percent reported making plans for attempting suicide. Some 9.5 percent of San Francisco high school students had attempted suicide.

The same 2015 survey was conducted in The City’s middle schools and revealed the percentages in each category to be 18.1 percent, 13.8 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Kevin Gogin, director of safety and wellness for the SFUSD’s Student, Family and Community Support Department, said that the district already has “a lot of little policies in place” and that adoption of the state policy is “a formalization of these policies.”

“We have covered all these bases for many years,” said Gogin, adding that the district’s High School Wellness program has been in existence since 2000, providing wellness centers at 19 campuses where students can discuss issues such as family life, depression and sexual identity.

Social workers have long been integrated into school communities, and school nurses have been assigned to school campuses since the 1990s, said Gogin. “We are really fortunate in San Francisco that these services are in our school campuses,” he said.

Still, Gogin said that adoption of the state policy “connects us to more resources in our communities where we can refer parents and students to additional help.”

The Board of Education approved the new policy on Tuesday night.

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