Once a suicide death has been confirmed, the school should immediately implement a coordinated crisis response in order to effectively manage the situation, provide opportunities for grief support, maintain an environment focused on normal educational activities, help students cope with their feelings, and minimize the risk of suicide contagion. What follows can be used by any school, regardless of whether there is a pre-existing Crisis Response Plan in place.
The Crisis Response Team Leader (usually the school psychologist or counselor) has overall responsibility for the duration of the crisis. She or he should immediately assemble a Crisis Response Team, which will be responsible for implementing the various elements of the crisis response.
The Crisis Response Team should be composed of at least five or six (but no more than 15) people chosen for their skills, credentials, and ability to work compassionately and effectively under pressure—ideally a combination of administrators, counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, and/or school resource officers. It can also be useful to include a member of the school’s information technology or computer lab staff.
The Crisis Response Team Leader should designate one individual as the Team Coordinator.
Crisis Response Team Leader’s Checklist
- Inform the school superintendent of the death.
- Contact the deceased’s family to offer condolences, inquire what the school can do to assist,discuss what students should be told, and inquire about funeral arrangements.
- Call an immediate meeting of the Crisis Response Team to assign responsibilities.
- Establish a plan to immediately notify faculty and staff of the death via the school’s crisis alertsystem (usually phone or e-mail).
- Schedule an initial all-staff meeting as soon as possible (ideally, before school starts in themorning).
- Arrange for students to be notified of the death in small groups such as homeroomsor advisories (not by overhead announcement or in a large assembly) and disseminate a death notification statement for students to homeroom teachers, advisors, or others leading those groups.
- Draft and disseminate a death notification statement for parents.
- Disseminate handouts on Facts About Suicide and Mental Disorders in Adolescentsand Talking About Suicide to faculty.
- Speak with school superintendent and Crisis Response Team Coordinator throughoutthe day.
- Determine whether additional grief counselors, crisis responders, or other resources may beneeded from outside the school.
Team Coordinator’s Checklist
The tasks below may be delegated as appropriate to specific staff or faculty in the school.
• Conduct initial all-staff meeting.
- Conduct periodic meetings for the Crisis Response Team members.
- Monitor activities throughout school, making sure teachers, staff, and Crisis Response Teammembers have adequate support and resources.
- Plan parent meeting if necessary.
- Assign roles and responsibilities to Crisis Response Team members in the areas of Safety,Operations, Community Liaisons, Funeral, Media Relations, and Social Media.
- Keep to regular school hours.
- Ensure that students follow established dismissal procedures.
- Call on school resource officers or plant manager to assist parents and others who may showup at the school and to keep media off of school grounds.
- Pay attention to students who are having particular difficulty, including those who may becongregating in hallways and bathrooms, and encourage them to talk with counselors or other appropriate school personnel.
- Assign a staff or faculty member to follow the deceased student’s schedule to monitor peer reactions and answer questions.
- If possible, arrange for several substitute teachers or “floaters” from other schools within the district to be on hand in the building in case teachers need to take time out of
- Arrange for crisis counseling rooms for staff and students.
- Provide tissues and water throughout the building and arrange for food for faculty andcrisis counselors.
- Work with administration, faculty, and counselors to identify individuals who may be havingparticular difficulty, such as family members, close friends, and teammates; those who had difficulties with the deceased; those who may have witnessed the death; and students known to have depression or prior suicidality; and work with school counseling staff to develop plans to provide psychological first aid to them.
- Prepare to track and respond to student and/or family requests for memorialization.
• Several Team members will be needed, each serving as the primary contact
for working with community partners of various types, including:
❍ coroner/medical examiner, to ensure accuracy of information disseminated to
❍ police, as necessary, to ensure student safety
❍ mayor’s office and local government, to facilitate community-wide response to the suicide death
❍ mental health and medical communities, as well as grief support organizations, to plan for service needs
❍ arranging for outside trauma responders and briefing them as they arrive on scene
- Communicate with the funeral director about logistics, including the need for crisis counselors and/or security to be present at the funeral. Encourage family to consider holding the funeral off school grounds and outside of school hours if at all possible.
- Discuss with the family the importance of communicating with clergy or whomever will
be conducting the funeral to emphasize the importance of connecting suicide to underlying mental health issues (such as depression) and not romanticizing the death in ways that could risk contagion.
- Depending on the family’s wishes, help disseminate information about the funeral to students, parents and staff, including:
❍ time of the funeral (keep school open if the funeral is during school hours)
❍ what to expect (for example, whether there will be an open casket)
❍ guidance regarding how to express condolences to the family
❍ policy for releasing students during school hours to attend (i.e., students will be released
only with permission of parent, guardian, or designated adult)
- Work with school counselors and community mental health professionals to arrange for
counselors to attend the funeral.
- Encourage parents to accompany their child to the funeral.
• Prepare a media statement.
• Designate a media spokesperson who will field media inquiries utilizing Key Messages for
Media Spokesperson document.
• Advise staff that only the media spokesperson is authorized to speak to the media.
• Advise students to avoid interviews with the media.
• Refer media outlets to Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media.
• Oversee school’s use of social media as part of the crisis response.
• Consider convening a small group of the deceased’s friends to work with school
administration to monitor social networking sites and other social media.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) . Introduction to incident command structure for schools . (2010) . http://training .fema .gov/EMIWeb/is/is100sca .asp
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) . Resources for parents and teachers .
http://www .fema .gov/kids/safes6 .htm
SPAN USA and Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) . Help at hand: Supporting survivors of suicide loss . A guide for funeral directors . (2008) . http://www .sprc .org/library/funeraldirectors .pdf