Lewiston: Schools to do more when students are suicidal

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LEWISTON — If a student shows signs that he or she is suicidal, school personnel now have more leeway to act, the Lewiston School Committee was told Monday night.

“We can call Tri-County Mental Health. They can assess the student in the building,” Principal Jake Langlais said. “If we think the student is in imminent danger, we can have them transported to the hospital.”

If a student is sent home with his or her parents, “we can also fax our findings to the provider.”

Some of the steps weren’t clear in all schools “because we never needed it,” Langlais said.

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After Lewiston Middle School student Anie Graham, 13, took her life in May, school personnel met with medical providers in June to go over how the schools handled the tragedy.

The schools got clarity on what they can do when they believe a student is in imminent danger, said Langlais, who last year was middle school principal. This year he is principal of Lewiston High School.

Before last spring, sometimes school personnel “wondered what they could do,” he said. “Now it’s streamlined. It’s very specific.”

In May, Graham wrote a note in school that read, “I want to kill myself.”

When the note was discovered, the school contacted her parents, who took the girl home.

The parents told the Sun Journal they then took her to her provider. The girl was seen by her doctor, the parents said. Despite her suicide note, the parents said they were told the provider had a good visit with the girl, and sent her home with her parents.

The girl seemed to have a good night at home and went to bed, her father Matt Graham said last spring. But the next morning her mother knocked on her door to get her up for school. She was dead.

The parents said for months the girl said that she wanted to die, that the parents tried to get her the help she needed but counseling was impossible to find. The mental health system is broken, they said. As parents, “you’re on your own,” the father said.

The parents also said they wished they had received some guidance from the school on what they could do.

Lewiston School Department Director of Special Education Pam Emery said Monday the streamlined protocols include that if a student shows “suicide gestures, self-harm, has a history or if they have a (suicide) plan, those are red flags.”

School personnel who are “gatekeepers” with some training would meet with the parents and give them recommendations, Emery said.

“If we feel a student is unsafe, we could call the ambulance to bring them to St. Mary’s, and meet the parents at the hospital,” she said. “We would send our staff member to the hospital to have a conversation of why we had them go there.”

Emery said Graham’s parents’ point of not enough help is “absolutely correct. We do have a lot of providers within our school buildings, yet we have an enormous wait list” outside the schools. “There’s such an enormous need.”

Lack of help is a problem nationwide, Langlais said. “If you know someone needs help, it’s very difficult to get something that matches well, that’s suitable for ongoing counseling.”

After Graham died last spring, 50 to 70 students displayed suicide signs, Langlais said.

“The amount of care provided for many of the kids around this situation was very challenging,” he said. “We even had a situation where we had a student be seen by a practitioner. The student was released within an hour and returned to school unaccompanied. That was a real challenge for us.”

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