PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — Rep. Terri Cortvriend, Sen. James A. Seveney, and Sen. Dawn Euer have introduced the Nathan Bruno and Jason Flatt Act to require all public school districts to adopt suicide prevention policies and train all personnel in suicide awareness and prevention annually.
“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,” said Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown). “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 connect them to help when they need it.”
The bill (2019-H 5564) would require every school district to adopt a suicide prevention policy, and train all school personnel — including teachers, administration, custodians, lunch personnel, substitutes, nurses, coaches, and coaching staff, even if volunteers — 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 sadly took his life in 2018. Representative Cortvriend was then chairwoman of the Portsmouth School Committee, which considered the school’s handling of the incident and determined to provide staff with more professional development regarding students’ social and emotional needs.
A few of Bruno’s friends formed a nonprofit called “Be Great for Nate” and an associated program called the Every Student Initiative. They approached Representative Cortvriend, Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) and Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton) with the ideas that became this legislation. 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 took his own life. Other parts were the students’ own ideas that they would like to see addressed. For more information about the Every Student Initiative and mental health awareness resources, visit everystudentinitiative.org.
“We are so grateful to the friends of Nathan Bruno who, in the wake of tragedy, looked for ways to help prevent other young people from suffering the way Nathan did. This bill is really their bill, and the change it will bring is a great way to honor Nathan’s memory,” said Senator Euer, who is the lead sponsor of the Senate bill.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, suicide was the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 34. In 2017, one in nine middle school students in Rhode Island made a suicide plan.
“Suicide awareness and prevention is critical for students of all ages. 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 Senator Seveney, who is the first cosponsor of the Senate bill.