Schools are no more able to solve the problem of teen-age suicides than they were able to deal with widespread drug use by young people, Fairfax County Superintendent Robert R. Spillane said yesterday.
Suicides are not "a school problem alone," Spillane told a meeting of Phi Delta Kappa, a teachers association, at George Mason University in Fairfax. "Nothing is a school problem alone."
Spillane's comment came in response to a question from the audience about the recent suicides of two 15-year-old Fairfax youths, described as best friends, within eight days of each other. The deaths prompted officials to send teams of counselors to Robinson Secondary School, where the boys had been sophomores.
Spillane said expecting the schools to solve the suicide problem is just as doomed to fail as was expecting the schools to stop children from using drugs a decade ago. He said influences from home and society also make a difference.
"Don't make schools the societal battleground," he said. Spillane said he would resist any suggestion that "the schools have to solve it alone. We will not and cannot."
Spillane said he is not sure how effective school suicide prevention programs can be, especially if they consist merely of lectures to "feel good about yourself and then the bell rings and you go on to the next class."
Fairfax began a school-based suicide prevention program three years ago in response to 11 suicides during the 1980-81 school year. It includes training for educators to spot the warning signs of a potential suicide and counseling for troubled youths.
Spillane arrived in Fairfax July 1 after four years as superintendent of the Boston schools. While he was in Boston, he said, there were three shootings in the schools and one death. But during those same four years, he said, 20 Fairfax students died by their own hands.