A House education subcommittee Wednesday unanimously endorsed legislation that would require middle and high school teachers and administrators to undergo two hours of training in youth suicide awareness and prevention as part of the five-year teacher recertification process.
The bill — known as the “Jason Flatt Act,” for the 16-year-old Tennessee teen who took his life in July 1997 — already has been passed in six states, including Tennessee, California, Illinois, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
It now goes to the House Education and Public Works Committee for consideration sometime next week. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
Donna Finley, a spokeswoman for the Jason Foundation, a Tennessee nonprofit established by Jason Flatt’s father, Clark Flatt, said the training would help identify the warning signs of potential youth suicide and ways to help.
“We are not trying to make them counselors,” she said of school teachers and principals, “but to have the tools so they can recognize the signs if a student comes to them.”
Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Provention show suicide is the third leading cause of death among South Carolina children and young people, ages 10-24. Those who work closely with the issue call it the “silent epidemic.”
The legislation would require the state Department of Education to develop guidelines for training and materials that could be used in school districts. Teachers and administrators could earn two units of in-service credit toward the 120 credits required for the every five-year license renewal.
Helen Pridgen, area director with the S.C. chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the state Department of Education already is working with schools on the youth suicide issue and welcomed the addition of the legislation.
The AFSP and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center have developed resources to help educators identify signs of youth suicide as well as a toolkit for schools that aids educators in dealing with the aftermath of a suicide. Her organization is also participating in regional Safe Schools seminars, which draws school resource offices, school personnel and law enforcement.
“We see a need,” Pridgen said. “People want the training. They want to be prepared and they need to know the referral process, the mental health process.”