With a vote in the House today, the General Assembly approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Sen. James A. Seveney to require all public school districts to adopt suicide prevention policies and train all personnel in suicide awareness and prevention annually.
The Nathan Bruno and Jason Flatt Act (2021-H 5353, 2021-S 0031), which now heads to the governor, would require all school personnel — including teachers, administration, custodians, lunch personnel, substitutes, nurses, coaches, and coaching staff, even if volunteers — to be trained in suicide prevention and awareness. The state Department of Education would establish the guidelines for the training curriculum.
The bill is named for Nathan Bruno, a 15-year-old Portsmouth High School student who took his life in 2018. Part of the bill is modeled after a state law passed in Tennessee and 19 other states, which was named after Jason Flatt, a 16-year-old from Nashville who died by suicide.
“Suicide awareness and prevention is critical for students of all ages,” said Senator Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton) in a statement. “We must take action to ensure all adults with whom they interact at school are able to recognize the signs of students who are at risk. Nathan Bruno’s tragic death showed us how important it is for everyone who works with students to recognize the signs and to know how to properly handle those situations. It can save kids’ lives.”
Said Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown), “Our state and our country are facing alarmingly high rates of suicide. Children of all ages face pressure from all angles in today’s society. Social media, self-acceptance, bullies, drugs and alcohol, athletics, image, relationships, and home issues are just a few of the many pressures our children face every day. Kids need support from the adults in their lives, and this bill strives to ensure the adults they see every day at school are ready to recognize their needs and connect them to help when necessary.”
Several of Bruno’s friends formed a nonprofit called “Be Great for Nate” and an associated program called the Every Student Initiative. They approached the sponsors with the ideas that became this legislation. For more information about the Every Student Initiative and mental health awareness resources, visit bg4n.org/esi.
According to the Department of Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Rhode Islanders between the ages of 15 and 34. In 2017, 15.9% of surveyed Rhode Island high school students they had considered suicide and 10.5% said they had attempted suicide. One in nine middle school students surveyed in Rhode Island that year reported having made a suicide plan.