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The general gist of the responses to my question about confidentiality and
suicide seems to be "confidentiality with common sense."  I've left off the
names of these responses and I hope this generates more general
information/discussion about the confidentiality of identifiable student
records kept by the library in the atmosphere generated by the terrorist
crisis. I would like to continue the discussion with the following questions.

-who should have access to circulation records?
-how hard should the records be to get?  court order, school board request,
principal moxy etc.
-is a school librarians duty to confidentiality different from a public
librarian duty?
-does the identity chip now available to be planted under the skin with the
capability of tracking a person anywhere seem a bit Orwellian ?  Is this
confidentiality sacrifice we need to make to remain free?

The last question widens the discussion, but identifies attitudes that do
relate to the topic.

Harry Willems, Consultant

responses below:

>Frequently we "fly by the seat of our pants," and if we know our students
>well at all, we know when someone else needs to be told. Because we're
>fairly small in numbers, it makes it easier. It would be much more difficult
>in a building with several hundred students. As a rule, I never disclose
>what students are checking out, but if I get "that feeling" then I go talk
>to the counselor. I am fortunate in that my student aides will sometimes
>tell me things as well.
>Not sure this sheds light, but it's my two cents worth.

We have been drilled to talk to the social worker or school psychologist if
we have concerns.  I will never hesitate because I can save a life.  I tried
once and he killed himself anyway.  His little sister (6th grade) was on the
other side of the door screaming at him not to do it).  He was asking
strange so I called the asst. prin. and she took him home.  He had problems
but the parents ignored him.  He killed himself that night.  He acted drunk
and tried to argue with me.  It wasn't like him as he was a reader and we
often shared our reading experiences.  He brought me books and would read
anything I handed him.  That day he wanted to argue about Heaven and Hell.
Perhaps I should have argued - I will never know.

Another time, a boy had an obsession with gun books.  I told "officials" and
they ignored me.  He killed his brother in "suspicious" circumstances two
weeks later.  Three other suicides were halted because of my direct

We as teachers are mandatory reporters of child abuse.  I look at this as
another type of abuse, sometimes it's self abuse.

Two others I called to the attention of officials were simply looking for
attention from home.

Just because someone is checking out info isn't the thing I look for.  I
listen, I engage in conversation, try to see if I can help in the
"research".  Asking the right questions can help determine if you need to go
further.  I'll take the chance on breaching confidentiality rather than
attend another funeral for a suicide.  Sometimes the info is needed because
the kids know someone in "trouble".  I let them know I can help.

With regards to anecdotal information on breeches of confidentiality:  When
I was a "young" librarian so many moons ago, one particular student had me
worried when he took out some books on teen suicide.  I wrestled with my
conscience then told the guidance counselor in confidence.  The student
came back and thanked me.  I learned a big lesson -- I was never sorry I
spoke to the guidance counselor, but I learned not to trust confidences to
her.  Good luck to you.

This is my personal opinion, not school policy. We don't have any policy on
this subject, so I get to follow my own instincts.

If a class comes in to do research in preparation to writing a paper, and a
student checks out materials on suicide, I wouldn't do anything about it.
That's just "pretend" research, done for an assignment rather than out of
any real interest.

On the other hand, if someone checked out those same materials and wasn't
part of a class doing research, I'd mention it to the counselor. This could
be a sign that someone has a problem, or it might be in response to some
family discussion or something in the news. Either way, the counselor is
the one who best can deal with it.

My thinking is that we are still dealing with children here, and children
sometimes try to solve problems that are beyond their abilities on their
own. When we adults suspect that a child has a problem we are obligated to
do something about it. That may be as simple as asking if everything is
okay, or sending the child to a counselor. I choose to mention my
observations to the counselor and let her pursue the matter. I usually
follow up a few days later, just in case it slipped her mind. Most of the
time she tells me that there wasn't a problem, but that she appreciated the
tip. Once in a while we do discover a serious problem, and then she is
really grateful for the tip.

As I said, this is just my opinion.


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