State lawmakers are considering mandatory suicide prevention training for educators.
The Legislature’s Education Committee unanimously agreed Monday to discuss at its next meeting proposed legislation that would require such training for school staff members, to include learning to recognize suicide warning signs.
“Having educators, who see kids every day, trained in terms of being able to distinguish between regular child development and suicide (risk) is crucial,” state Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said in a post-meeting interview. “That could make all the difference.”
The decision came after the committee heard and discussed a report on what’s known as the Jason Flatt Act and the possibility of similar legislation aimed at the suicide problem in Wyoming.
Wyoming is consistently among the top states in annual suicide rates, Wyoming Department of Family Services Director Steve Corsi told the committee.
The Jason Flatt Act was named for a student who committed suicide in 1997. First passed in Tennessee in 2007, it requires all educators to complete two hours of annual training in youth suicide awareness and prevention. Ten other states have since passed the act, according to the Jason Flatt Foundation website.
Suicide prevention is the seventh of 13 priorities for the Education Committee this interim.
Legislators discussed that the proposed legislation could be enacted at no additional cost to the state and be incorporated into existing professional development for educators.
Educators could perhaps be trained in suicide prevention instead of something else, Connolly said after the meeting.
“We don’t do much of that,” Connolly said, “and so we are taking a really firm position that this is truly important.”
The Jason Flatt Foundation offers free materials for educators, but Wyoming legislators don’t plan to specify the curriculum.
Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips told committee members a misconception exists that people can already tell who is at risk for suicide. But Flatt’s case is an example of how that perception fails and emphasizes the importance of training, he said. Seemingly happy, Flatt was active in sports and his youth group, earned mostly B grades and had many friends, according to the Jason Flatt Foundation website.
The next Education Committee meeting where the discussion will continue is scheduled for July 15-16 in Riverton.