New Ohio law will help schools with safety, suicide awareness

(WKBN) – Ohio legislation passed last year will help schools include safety and youth suicide awareness education and training into their curriculum. 

In March 2021, House Bill 123 went into effect. It’s called the “Safety and Violence Education Students Act,” also known as the “SAVE Students Act.”

“What this deals with is basically childhood trauma… A lot of the children today are going through a lot more trauma than they did, say, 10 or 20 years ago. Whether it’s at home or whether it’s bullying or all the different things that make up the difficulties of being a student in Ohio right now,” said Senator Mike Rulli, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Schools that choose to be a part of it will put together a threat assessment team that will implement different training and education into the schools’ curriculums.

The SAVE Students Act deals directly with school safety and mental health and suicide awareness.

Thursday, a student at Lowellville Local Schools shot himself in school, leading to a school lockdown and a chaotic scene. The student’s condition is unknown at the time, but many other students suffered emotionally from the incident.

“Our hearts are just so heavy with prayer for all of Lowellville and for the parents of that student, in particular, you know. I think any student that’s in distress or feels that there’s no hope, there’s always hope, and there’s a lot of people in our community that really welcome them, and we will do anything to help anyone that’s suffering with any kind of mental problems at all,” Rulli said.

Schools will have until 2023 to apply for the program, then will have certain guidelines to follow. Rulli said $2.5 million in funding has been allocated for the program across the state. He says school districts are not required to implement this program.

“There is an opt-out option inside of the bill, if your school district isn’t able to do this program, it’s not gonna be forced upon you,” he said.

According to the Ohio Department of Education’s website, the SAVE Students Act will have emotional and physical safety requirements for any district involved in the program.

The requirements include integrating evidence-based suicide awareness and violence prevention and social inclusion into the health curriculum. Schools are also encouraged to implement peer-led violence prevention clubs.

Emotional Safety

The changes to the health curriculum must begin by July 1, 2023. Starting in the 2023-2024 school year, in every grade level from grades 6 through 12, every school district must include at least one hour per school year on each of the following topics:

  • Suicide awareness and prevention;
  • Safety training and violence prevention; and
  • Social inclusion.

The Ohio Department of Education states that the approved training programs for suicide awareness and prevention and violence prevention must be evidence-based and include the following:

  • How to instruct school personnel to identify the signs and symptoms of depression, suicide and self-harm in students;
  • How to instruct students to identify the signs and symptoms of depression, suicide and self-harm in their peers;
  • How to identify appropriate mental health services within schools and larger communities and when and how to refer youth and their families to those services;
  • How to teach students about mental health and depression, warning signs of suicide and the importance of and processes for seeking help on behalf of self and peers and reporting of these behaviors;
  • How to identify observable warning signs and signals of individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others;
  • The importance of taking threats seriously and seeking help; and
  • How students can report dangerous, violent, threatening, harmful or potentially harmful activity, including the use of the district’s chosen anonymous reporting program.

There will also be programs to encourage social inclusion in schools. Those must include the following topics:

  • What social isolation is and how to identify it in others;
  • What social inclusion is and the importance of establishing connections with peers;
  • When and how to seek help for peers who may be socially isolated; and
  • How to utilize strategies for more social inclusion in classrooms and the school. 

Physical Safety

Physical safety requirements provided by the SAVE Students Act include creating and implementing threat assessment teams and plans, including threat assessment plans and protocols in emergency management plans, and using anonymous tip line reporting.

The student-led violence prevention clubs are not required but are allowed to designate these clubs within the schools. If a school does create a student-led violence prevention club, then they must do the following:

  • Be open to all members of the student body;
  • Have at least one identified adult advisor;
  • Implement and sustain suicide and violence prevention and social inclusion training and awareness activities; and
  • Foster opportunities for student leadership development.

By March 24, 2023, every school district must create a threat assessment team for each school building in the district for grades 6-12.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety, along with the Ohio Department of Education and Attorney General’s Office, must develop and maintain a list of approved training programs for school threat assessment team members.

Each program must provide instruction in the following:

  • Identifying behaviors, signs and threats that may lead to a violent act;
  • Determining the seriousness of a threat; and
  • Developing intervention plans that protect the potential victims and address the underlying problem or conflict that initiated the behavior and assessment of plan results.

A model threat assessment plan has to be developed by that date as well, and it must include the following:

  • Identify the types of threatening behavior that may represent a physical threat to a school community;
  • Identify individuals to whom threatening behavior should be reported and steps to be taken by those individuals;
  • Establish threat assessment guidelines, including identification, evaluation of the seriousness of threat or danger, intervention to reduce potential violence and follow-up to assess intervention results;
  • Establish guidelines for coordinating with local law enforcement agencies and reports collected through the district’s chosen anonymous reporting program and identify a point of contact within each agency; and
  • Conform with all other specifications in a school’s emergency management plan.

You can read more about the SAVE Students Act and what it all includes, by visiting the Ohio Department of Education’s website.