published on September 4, 2019 - 10:00 AM
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Denise Herrmann was only a few months into her new job as principal of a Palo Alto, Calif., high school in fall 2014 when a student took his own life.

By the next day, Herrmann said, she and some of her colleagues at Henry M. Gunn High School were in conversations with experts from nearby Stanford University about how to cope with student suicides and their aftermath.

She knew her school was not alone. “This was a community issue,” she said.

The death of the Gunn High School junior was one of four student suicides in Palo Alto during the 2014-15 school year — the second such suicide cluster in the community’s recent history.

By the beginning of the following school year, the Palo Alto Unified School District had implemented a new policy: It put suicide prevention contact information on student IDs.

A California law that has greeted students returning to school statewide over the past few weeks bears a striking resemblance to that Palo Alto policy from four years ago. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, all IDs for California students in grades seven through 12, and in college, must bear the telephone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That number is 800-273-TALK (8255).

“I am extremely proud that this strategy has gone statewide,” said Herrmann, who is now superintendent of the Roseville Joint Union High School District near Sacramento.


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