STATEHOUSE – A bill recently approved by the Rhode Island Senate would require all public school districts within the state to train all personnel in suicide awareness and prevention annually.
The Nathan Bruno and Jason Flatt Act (2021-S 0031), named after high school students in Portsmouth and Nashville, Tenn., respectively, who took their own lives, would require all school personnel — including teachers, administration, custodians, lunch personnel, substitutes, nurses, coaches, and coaching staff, even if volunteers — to be trained in suicide prevention and awareness. The state Department of Education would establish the guidelines for the training curriculum.
“Suicide awareness and prevention is critical for students of all ages,” said Senator James A. Seveney, (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton). “We must take action to ensure all adults with whom they interact at school are able to recognize the signs of students who are at risk. Nathan Bruno’s tragic death showed us how important it is for everyone who works with students to recognize the signs and to know how to properly handle those situations. It can save kids’ lives.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, suicide was the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 34. In 2017, one in nine middle school students in Rhode Island made a suicide plan.
In the bill, the measure also expands to students, who, starting in grade six, would also receive annual suicide awareness and prevention training.
“Approved training materials and instruction shall include training on how to identify appropriate mental health services both within the school and the larger community, and when and how to refer youth and their families to those services,” the bill reads. “These materials and instruction are to be given by qualified suicide prevention instructors.”
If ultimately approved, the bill would require each public school district within the state to adopt a policy on student suicide prevention that will address procedures relating to prevention, intervention and postvention, with the former referring to mandatory counseling and other social care access for students after another student’s suicide or attempted suicide. Postvention, in the bill, also refers to counseling to students that have “made a suicide attempt or have reported ideation,” with counseling consisting of regular check-ins as determined by a licensed mental health professional.
RIDE would also develop and maintain a model policy to assist school districts that would include guidance on parental notification procedures, clarification of engagement with student support personnel and language defining an in-school issue to an out-of-school issue.
On April 13, the bill passed the Senate with 35 votes of approval, zero in opposition and three not in attendance. Senators Alana DiMario (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett), Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown) all voted in favor of the bill’s passage.
The bill now moves to the Rhode Island House of Representatives, where it will be deliberated by the House Education Committee.