Senators debate cutting back suicide prevention training in schools

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A bill moving through a state Senate committee could possibly change a law requiring schools to train all their employees on suicide prevention.

Those who support the bill say they are in support of the training, but they want to reduce the amount of people required to take it.

“We just feel that there’s a price tag for people that are being trained that probably don’t have the connection with kids,” said G.A. Buie, Executive Director of the Kansas Superintendents Association.

Lawmakers approved the Jason Flatt Act in 2016. It requires all school district employees to receive at least one hour of training each year on suicide prevention. The proposed bill would change that to only "selected" staff, and remove the one-hour minimum.

“I think this is moving us in the wrong direction,” said Tim Deweese, Director of Johnson County Mental Health Center.

The Centers for Disease Control says suicide is third-leading cause of death for children 10 to 14. In Shawnee County between January and October of 2017, authorities report six people between the ages of ten and 19 took their own lives.

Last month, Topeka High junior Chassidy Guerrero died by what the coroner has ruled a suicide.

“We have had a handful of suicides just in the last few weeks in Kansas. Kansas school children. At what price? And I don’t think that one hour of training is too much to endure,” said Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R - Louisburg).

Mental health experts say the more people who are trained, no matter their job within the school, may spot signs, and talk to a student so they can get help.

According to Deweese, “I believe that you have to have interaction to be able to ask the most difficult question, and that is: are you thinking of killing yourself or are you thinking of committing suicide?”

But some schools leaders say it’s too taxing on their already stretched thin resources.

“The district maintenance folks that are mowing yards. The roofers. The plumbers that are in a larger district, or electricians. Those are hourly employees and they tend to not have that connection with kids,” Buie explained.

The Kansas Superintendents Association says it feels the time and money should be spent on support for the children who have been identified as the ones needing help the most.

Topeka Public Schools is holding a public forum on suicide awareness on February 22nd.