On Wednesday, the Dolores School Board drafted changes to its school-based suicide intervention guidelines during a lengthy meeting that included votes on several other policy changes.
The board presented the current rules and received input from School Resource Officer David Van Bibber and Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin on possible changes. They also approved a first reading of some changes to the district’s policies on nondiscrimination, staff records, immunization and administration of medicine, all of which were recommended by the Colorado Association of School Boards. The board plans to vote on the final version of the intervention policy at its next public meeting.
Right now, the district’s guidelines ask all school staff to notify a counselor, social worker or school psychologist when they believe a student is at risk, so that they can perform a basic suicide risk assessment. If the counselor believes there is a high risk, the guidelines suggest contacting the parents and, if the parents can’t be reached, transporting the student to Axis Health Systems or the emergency room at Southwest Memorial Hospital. Since January, Nowlin has repeatedly asked the school board to consider revising these guidelines to include more communication with law enforcement and more follow-up with families.
“Nowhere in (this policy) are you notifying us about a suicide threat or a child in crisis,” he told the board on Wednesday.
The guidelines do mention getting law enforcement support if school staff believe a student is in imminent danger or is carrying a weapon. But Nowlin said he would like the sheriff’s office to be notified for every child at risk, so that deputies can follow up after school hours. He noted that law enforcement officers, unlike school staff, have the authority to take an at-risk child from their home to the hospital if their parents refuse to do so.
Secondary Principal Jenifer Hufman said she wanted to work more closely with the sheriff’s office, but she and other staff members are sometimes confused about how to do so.
“I don’t want you to have the feeling that we’re not willing to work with you all, because we are,” she told Nowlin. “I think, from my perspective, I just need to know when you need to be called.”
She and board treasurer Deanna Prock said they sometimes get false alarms, and they worry about calling law enforcement unnecessarily. Nowlin said he wants to be notified if there is any evidence that a child has intentionally hurt himself. He asked the board to add a step to the guidelines that recommends staff call law enforcement right after informing the principal and counselor of an at-risk child. He also recommended parents be notified at the same time. Current guidelines don’t ask staff to contact parents until after a suicide risk assessment. Hufman said she agreed with those changes.
Van Bibber asked whether the district would have staff trained in suicide risk assessment available every day, citing instances in the past when threats have gone unnoticed because no qualified personnel were on campus. Hufman said she believed that with the two new social workers the board had approved earlier in the meeting, together with the district’s school psychologist, there should be someone available all week this school year.
Although no formal vote was taken on Wednesday, the board members agreed to write a new draft of the guidelines and present it at their next meeting, on June 27.
“I know it’s a tough subject,” Nowlin said. “But we’re going to get there.”
The board also approved several policy changes recommended by CASB for the coming school year. It added transgender students and employees to the list of people protected under the district’s nondiscrimination policy, and approved a new exemption form that parents must fill out every year if they have unvaccinated children.
The policy on personnel records was also updated to bar school board members from access to those files. The board chose not to update its policy on marijuana to allow a caregiver to give medical marijuana to a student on school property. Superintendent Scott Cooper said that since no Dolores student currently uses medical marijuana, he didn’t believe it would be worthwhile to change district policy this year.
The updated versions of the policies will be available on the Dolores Schools website before the beginning of the school year in August.