WV State Board of Education to Address Suicide Prevention Training
A West Virginia man whose teenage son committed suicide after being bullied says he doubts a new state law on educator training could have done anything to help the youth if it had been in effect.
The state Board of Education on Wednesday is expected to address implementing guidelines for a law that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed in March. It aims to make sure that principals, teachers and other educators are trained to recognize the warning signs and reach out to students in crisis.
Buckhannon-Upshur High School student Eston William Nelson II committed suicide last November. His father, Bill Nelson, says the teenager had been repeatedly bullied.
Instead of mandating training for teachers and administrators, preventing suicides can be much more effective if the focus is shifted to disciplining bullies, Bill Nelson said. Current state code calls for up to a 10-day suspension.
“If you don’t go and do something about this and start prosecuting these kids, it’s going to continue,‘’ Nelson said.
The state Board of Education meeting’s agenda says it’s recommended that the guidelines be approved and placed on public comment for 30 days.
The new law is called the Jason Flatt Act of 2012. Jason Flatt was a 16-year-old student in Tennessee when he killed himself in July 1997. Ten years later, legislators there passed a law requiring that in-service training for teachers and principals include at least two hours of suicide prevention education each school year.
West Virginia became the seventh state to enact such a law. Alaska’s governor signed similar legislation late last month.
Although most young people who attempt suicide give clear warning signs, Nelson said his son didn’t.
He was a respectful, “happy-go lucky’‘ 15-year-old, a good student and a member of the junior varsity football team.
Once the bullying started last fall, “his tolerance I guess for that kind of thing was very low,‘’ Nelson said. “He didn’t want to put up with it anymore. He didn’t want to go into the gym. He talked to us quite a few times. He’d come in and knock on the door and say, `you all asleep?‘ Sometimes I’d say, `well yeah, but we’re not now, what you got?‘ And he’d sit down and talk.
“I don’t know why he didn’t want to do it that night. I didn’t know if he didn’t want to show me that he was weak or anything else.‘’
The younger Nelson went missing from his home near Ellamore on November 16, 2011. Police searched for him when his family reported he’d taken a gun. He was later found dead about a mile from home.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. for people ages 10 to 24, behind only accidents and homicides.
Don Chapman, assistant director of the state Office of Healthy Schools, said the new law will deal with bullying as one of the many issues that school systems can address.
“It’s going to allow for identification of these issues that students have, and as we work with schools, encourage them to build up resources—mental health counseling, mentoring or some other connectedness that’s going to give those students some support systems,‘’ Chapman said.
Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said bullying is a “hot-button issue’‘ in counties across the state because every day during the school year, parents are complaining about how their children are being treated by other students.
Although local boards of education have the ability to dole out punishment, the state’s code of conduct, called Policy 4373, is focused on teaching responsible behavior before something happens, not punishing a child after they act up, Cordeiro said.
And Cordeiro said the state is working on a student behavior campaign that reaches out into communities to emphasize that “every one of us has a role in this.‘’
“We talk about this happening in schools, but a lot of times it starts elsewhere and sometimes on an electronic platform’‘ such as social media sites, Cordeiro said. “It’s how you model your own behavior and how it impacts your children. We think that is so important.‘’