Law Office of Michelle Ball 215,5150,parents rights,policy,suicide Suicide Warnings, School Legal Requirements in California- Is Parent Notification Included In Your District Policy?

Suicide Warnings, School Legal Requirements in California- Is Parent Notification Included In Your District Policy?


Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

 California public schools can be places of great joy, and terrible sorrow.  We all know that kids really can have it rough, and sometimes they don’t talk to their parents to let them know they are suffering.  To address this, California public schools must, per state law, have a current Suicide Awareness Policy, which includes training for staff.
bad-36578_1280School districts are mandated, to have such a policy in all schools where seventh-twelfth graders attend (e.g. junior and high schools, or even K-8 schools if they cover seventh grade or up). This policy should address the needs of youth who are considered “high-risk” who are defined per Education Code §215(a)(1) as:

1)  Youth bereaved by suicide. [e.g. someone they know killed themselves]

2)  Youth with disabilities, mental illness, or substance use disorders.
3) Youth experiencing homelessness or in out-of-home settings, such as foster care.
4)  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning youth.

The policy must contain training guidelines for school staff and information on when and how to inform families of suicide prevention services.

One glaring omission in the code is a mandate to inform parents when a student expresses suicidal thoughts.  So, 
although a Suicide Awareness Policy may be in effect, that does not mean parents will be informed.

Additionally, sometimes schools report students to mental health authorities for an involuntary evaluation if they think the child presents a danger to themselves or others, with no warning to parents (called a “5150 hold” see Welfare and Institutions Code 

Over the years, I have had many worried parents who found their child (sometimes a disabled child who may be lacking in certain communication skills), was shipped off 
by their school to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation, with no call to a parent first, after an allegedly alarming communication.  Child Protective Services (CPS) may also become involved.
It is a sad day for parents when a child is moved to a psychiatric ward without forewarning, as the impacts can be devastating for a child and their family.  Yes, schools should act on true threats, but parents rights to provide medical or other care must be balanced into the mix.  It is a tough wire to walk for all concerned.

As the code does not define what should go into the school policy, and identifies that “stakeholders” must be involved in developing the policy, I would suggest that parents, although not specifically named in the code as “stakeholders,” should be included in a policy’s development and improvement.  

Parents may want to research their district/school policy and see if the policy includes a notification to PARENTS of issues that arise.  

Some parents may already have a family doctor or therapist, may have alternative mental health services available, or may simply be able to address the alleged issues directly with their child.  If the policy does not include parents in the mix (e.g. no required notification of parents when suicidal thoughts expressed), parents may be completely unaware of a suicidal communication from their child, which can lead to devastating consequences if the child acts on their threats.

Simply, if parents are not notified, they cannot act to help their child, and sometimes they may not know of their child’s pleas until it is too late.

Ultimately, kids need monitoring in school and competent, thoughtful communication between responsible adults and their families who love them.  Parents and all those who are responsible for them, can’t help them if they don’t know.  As such, parents may want to make sure they are part of the school notification loop before it is too late.