An estimated 70 young people in New Jersey kill themselves each year, almost half of them school-aged. A bill now being negotiated in the Statehouse aims to address how public schools can help prevent such tragedies.
Sponsored by Assembly members Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), the bill would significantly increase the number of hours that teachers are trained to recognize the warnings signs of teen suicide and identify steps to get help.
The bill won approval from the Assembly’s education committee in the fall and is poised to go next to the full Assembly before moving to the Senate.
Apparently, there's been considerable discussion behind the scenes to strengthen the measure and clarify the roles of schools and educators.
The bill follows on New Jersey’s first in-the-nation 2007 law in that required two hours of training for all teachers over the course of five years, a bill that opened the way for more than 20 states with varying requirements.
The new bill would expand that to two hours each year. Advocates and other organizations are now determining how to attain that end.
“There were concerns raised at the time of the committee hearing about the time being required,” Singleton said yesterday. “So we are trying to come up with wording to address the concerns.”
“It’s moving in a very positive direction,” he said.
The details are unclear, but one leading advocate who testified last October said he is working with the major education groups to possibly scale back the annual time requirement, while extending the legislation to cover staff, such as aides and school-bus drivers.
“We want to make sure this will cover all those who deal with kids in schools,” said Scott Fritz, cofounder of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicides, a national group based in New Jersey.
“Be it lunchroom aides who see something happening in the cafeteria or the bus drivers, we want everyone who has contact with kids to have at least some training,” said Fritz, who lost a child to suicide.
Instead of a two-hour requirement each year, one thing Fritz said his group is pressing is refresher training every year that will alert staff to the latest developments about teen suicide and any changes to resources available in a school, including who to notify. He said he would also like to see regular drills concerning such crises, similar to those for fires or other emergencies.
Singleton yesterday didn’t speak to the changes at this point, other than finding ways to adding the training into current requirements rather than adding new ones. He said he hoped to be able to incorporate them as amendments to the current bill when it comes to a floor vote, rather than starting anew.
But he cited two recent suicides of high school students in his home district -- ones that came after he filed the bill -- as examples of the kinds of tragedies that may possibly be prevented.
“That rocked the community pretty hard,” he said of the suicides in Burlington Township. “We won’t be 100 percent, but I hope we can save at least some lives.”