After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools | 7 since social media and other forms of communication may be occurring simultaneously, and it is possible that others, including students, may already have some information about the death. It can be challenging for a school to determine how to proceed if the cause of death has not been confirmed to be suicide, if there is an ongoing investigation, or if the family does not want the cause of death disclosed. The school’s principal or the superintendent should first check with the family, the coroner, and/or the medical examiner’s office (or, if necessary, local law enforcement) to ascertain the official cause of death. If the Cause of Death Is Unconfirmed If there is an ongoing investigation, schools should state that the cause of death is still being determined and that additional information will be forthcoming once it has been confirmed. Acknowledge that there may be rumors (which are often inaccurate), and remind students that rumors can be deeply hurtful and unfair to the missing/ deceased person and his or her family and friends. Given how quickly news and rumors spread (including through media coverage, e-mail, texting, and social media), schools may not be able to wait for a final determination before they need to begin communicating with the students. In those cases, schools can say, “At this time, this is what we know…” For a more complete example of how to talk with students about this, see Sample Death Notification Statement for Students: Option 2 – When the Cause of Death Is Unconfirmed. The school attorney may wish to first research the applicable state law regarding discussing the cause of death before the school issues a statement. In addition, schools should check with local law enforcement before speaking about the death with students who may need to be interviewed by the authorities. If the Family Does Not Want the Cause of Death Disclosed Although the fact that a student has died may be disclosed immediately, official information about the cause of death should not be disclosed to students until the family has been consulted. The need to share information should be carefully balanced with honoring the family’s request. Therefore, the school may choose to initially release a more general, factual statement without using the student’s name if the family does not give permission (e.g., “We have learned that a ninth-grade student died over the weekend.”). There may be cases where the death has been declared a suicide, but the family does not want this communicated, perhaps due to prejudice, privacy concerns, or fear of risking contagion or because they simply do not (yet) believe or accept that it was suicide. If this situation occurs, someone from the administration or mental health staff who has a good relationship with the family should be designated to contact them to explain that students are already talking about the death among themselves, and that having adults in the school community talk with students about suicide and its causes can help keep students safe. Schools have a responsibility to balance the need to be truthful with the school community with the need to be sensitive to the family. If the family refuses to permit disclosure, schools can state, “The family has requested that information about the cause of death not be shared at this time.” But staff can also use the opportunity to talk with students about the phenomenon of suicide, for example: We know there has been a lot of talk about whether this was a suicide death. Since the subject of suicide has been raised, we want to take this opportunity to give you accurate information about suicide in general, ways to prevent it, and how to get help if you or someone you know is feeling depressed or may be suicidal.