Suicide, bullying issues prompt concerns

Dealing with growing concerns over bullying and suicides in schools was the focus of separate hearings Thursday in the Senate and House education committees 

Mental health advocates and those affected by suicide testified against a bill that would make changes to the Jason Flatt Act, which requires suicide awareness and prevention programming for school staff. 

SB 333 would repeal the one-hour training requirement for each calendar year for each school staff member. It would also require the prevention programming be posted on the school district’s website and identify the staff members required to participate in the training. 

During a hearing before the Senate Education Committee, the bill was supported by KASB, the United School Administrators of Kansas and the Kansas School Superintendents Association. The groups said not all employees needed the training because often hourly employees, such as maintenance staff or administrative assistants, don’t have contact, or have limited contact, with students.  

But several parents and relatives of students who committed suicide said all school personnel should receive suicide awareness training because students spend the majority of their time at school. 

In the House Education Committee, educators, advocates and students spoke in favor of HB 2578, which would require school districts to post bullying prevention plans on their website, share copies with students and file with the State Board of Education. 

Although bullying prevention policies have been required for over a decade, proponents said students and parents still face barriers knowing how to report issues and having schools respond, which they say contributes to mental health issues and suicide. Former State Board of Education member Walt Chappell urged the committee to amend the bill with much stricter reporting and enforcement requirements. 

KASB associate executive director Mark Tallman, testifying as neutral, told the committee the additional requirements in the bill as introduced would not be difficult for most schools to implement, but said schools were struggling to address major social trends affecting student behavior, mental health and family support. 

“Schools are trying to help students with these issues, and the Kansas Can vision has made social and emotional health one of the five major outcomes, the highest visibility it has ever had,” Tallman said. “At the same time, we have underfunded special education funding, eliminated professional development, and schools have cut school support. Kansas also reduced support for community mental health and juvenile justice programs. Until we address those programs, many students are going to continue to struggle.” 

Neither committee took action on the bills but may vote in the two weeks. 

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