Surge of Student Suicides Pushes Las Vegas Schools to Reopen

The Four Percent

“Without in-person instruction, there is a gap that is right now being unfilled,” she said.

Suzie Button, the senior clinical director for high school programming at the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York that works on suicide prevention, said hundreds of schools and colleges — including Clark County’s — are teaming up with the organization to better serve students during the pandemic.

“There’s a lot we don’t know, but what we do know about schools is they are the nexus of adolescent life,” Dr. Button said. “And in times like this, young people are sometimes the canaries in the coal mine.”

Like many school districts, the Clark County school system marshaled its resources to plug gaps in services to its students. Truancy officers started doing wellness checks, school psychologists were working overtime, teachers were trained to look for trauma cues on screens, and school resource officers became the chief liaisons between the district and the coroner’s office.

By July, after the sixth suicide since March, the district invested in a program, the GoGuardian Beacon alert system, to send reports of mild to severe suicide risk. The system, which scans student writings on district-issued iPads, generated more than 3,100 alerts from June to October, indicating behavior such as suicide research, self-harm, written comments, or just the need for help or support.

By November, the deluge forced the district to upgrade its contract to include 24-hour monitoring and a service that would sort out the most severe cases, like students who were in “active planning,” meaning they had identified a methodology and were ready to act.

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