By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Student safety and suicide prevention were the main topics of discussion during the Warsaw Community Schools Board of School Trustees’ work session on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
Gina Courtois, WCS’ social-emotional learning coordinator, presented information to the board on suicide prevention and postvention, showcasing what the school corporation is actively doing to help survivors of attempted suicide, as well as recognizing the warning signs that may show a student is considering suicide.
“In times of panic, sometimes we act emotionally,” said Courtois. “But if we have a plan in place, like why we have a tornado plan, why we have a fire plan … in that time of emergency, we can go to that plan and we can do things consistently.”
In 2017, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation requiring that all school corporations adopt a policy intended to increase child suicide awareness and prevention. Per Indiana Code 20-26-5-34.4, each policy must address eight recommended points, including offering counseling services related to suicide prevention and training on warning signs and tendencies.
According to Courtois, “postvention” documents have been created and will be shared with each WCS school principal. A postvention is an organized response in the aftermath of a suicide or a suicide attempt.
“If we have an attempt, ultimately we just want to make sure that we’re going through and that everyone’s doing the same thing,” said Courtois regarding the school corporation’s response. “Part of the reason we do this…if there were an actual suicide, we don’t want to, in the moment of grief and shock, create a scenario where we’re causing contagion. When someone dies by suicide, that ripple effect can be from six people to 32 people. We want to do our best as a school system, as adults, to make sure we’re not making that ripple effect greater.”
Courtois said her ultimate goal is to ensure that the school corporation strives for consistency in its response to suicide and prevention in order to support all parties.
“When this happens, this affects our teachers, this affects our building administrators, our staff and our community,” said Courtois.
In regards to student safety while getting on and off the bus, Dr. David Robertson, WCS assistant superintendent of elementary education, discussed the school corporation’s transportation routes and stop arm violations. Since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, WCS has had 14 bus stop arm violations.
“Those violations are called in by the driver,” said Robertson. “They are reviewed by the transportation department. We’re really thankful for our partnerships with law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office.”
School administrative staff and several board members also reviewed six bus stops requested by specific parents. The school corporation’s default is to pick students up curbside. According to Robertson, out of the six requests, only one was denied due to safety concerns.
“The rest of them are on very, very lightly traveled county roads,” said Robertson. “We’re working with INDOT, the county, and the City of Warsaw for signage updates specifically on those other stops to make sure there are high visibility signs.”
Robertson also said that when buses need to cross US 30, they only cross at lighted intersections.
“We had an incident a couple weeks ago where a bus was stopped at a railroad track, checking both ways,” said Robertson. “A car came flying around the side of the bus at the railroad track.”
The board also commended WCS Transportation Director Mark Fick for his work in ensuring each school bus stop is safe for students.
Jim LeMasters, WCS director of maintenance, buildings and grounds, also gave the board an update on cleaning happening within the schools as an extra precaution against COVID-19.
“I don’t know what the number is that we’ve actually had (COVID-19 cases), but it’s very, very small,” said LeMasters. “I think that has a lot to do with people being extra cautious and more efforts on our end with cleaning. We have people stepping up to go help clean as well. Thank you to everyone going above and beyond on that. Kudos to everybody making it work.”
WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert said he’ll be giving a full report on the school’s COVID-19 situation during the board’s regular monthly meeting.
“At this point, we have seen zero cases of our quarantined kids actually test positive or exhibit any symptoms,” said Hoffert. “We’ve had zero teachers test positive. Cases that we have had have been identified quickly. We’re four and a half weeks into school, but I really think because of your team, the cleaning that has taken place and the measures taken by our teachers have been very successful.”
The board’s next regular meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, in the Harrison Elementary School gymnasium.