House measure aims to boost suicide awareness and prevention, promote 988 Crisis Lifeline

      The Missouri House has taken time in the waning days of the session to pass a bipartisan effort to address suicide awareness and prevention.

Representative Ann Kelley (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      It sent to the Senate House Bill 2136, the “Jason Flatt/Avery Reine Cantor Act,” which would require public schools, charter schools, and public higher education institutions that print pupil identification cards to print on those cards the new three-digit number for the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 988. 

      “988 is going to be our new mental health suicide hotline beginning in July, so this is going to encourage school districts to get that out there to the public so that we can start using that,” explained the bill’s sponsor, Representative Ann Kelley (R-Lamar)

      The bill also contains provisions meant to equip and encourage pharmacists to identify possible signs of suicide and respond to them.  This includes the “Tricia Leanne Tharp Act,” sponsored by Representative Adam Schwadron (R-St. Charles).

“This would allow the Board of Pharmacy to create two continuing education credit hours for pharmacists to take, to allow them to apply that to their continuing education credits in suicide awareness and prevention,” said Schwadron.

      The bill was amended to make sure all pharmacists can participate in that continuing education, regardless of where they work.  That change was offered by Representative Patty Lewis (D-Kansas City), who said, “All licensed pharmacists, whether they work inside the four walls of the hospital in an acute care setting or in retail pharmacy [would] have the opportunity to participate in the continuing education to address suicide prevention because there’s such a great need.”

      Bolivar representative Mike Stephens (R) is a pharmacist, and said he and others in that profession are well-positioned to be able to identify and work to prevent suicide.   

Representative Patty Lewis (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I think it’s an important thing for pharmacists at every place along the way to be informed and be a part of this process, be aware.  I know in my own personal practice you have intimate contact with patients and you see them during their treatments and there are times that you feel like things aren’t as they ought to be but [you’re] not sure what sort of interventions are appropriate.  I think this will be very helpful,” said Stephens.

Similar language will allow teachers and principals to count two hours in suicide-related training toward their continuing education.

The bill advanced to the Senate 142-0 after several members spoke about their own experiences regarding suicide.

Festus Republican Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway told her colleagues that every seven hours someone commits suicide in Missouri.  It’s the tenth leading cause of death in the state and the second leading cause among those aged 10 to 34. 

“When you think about age 10 all the way up to 34 this is covering all of our children in schools and college when they first get out of school and they’re finding their first jobs or meeting someone and becoming a family, and I think that anything that we can do to bring awareness to this issue is just incredible,” said Buchheit-Courtway.  “Mental health awareness is so important to so many of us here.”

      Representative Dave Griffith (R-Jefferson City) said he knows of a 14 year-old who committed suicide two months ago, just south of the capital city.

Representative Adam Schwadron (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“He did it because he was being bullied in school and he felt there was no other way out and he couldn’t talk about it.  It became very obvious to that community the need for us to be able to talk and have some kind of tools in our hands to be able to prevent these types of tragic events,” said Griffith.  “The suicide prevention hotline number, I believe every school will put it on their cards.  There’s no reason for them not to do that.”

      Representative Rasheen Aldridge, Junior (D-St. Louis) told the body, “One of my good friends in high school, best friend … who is also between that age that the lady talked about, only in 10th grade, committed suicide … it takes a toll on loved ones, it takes a toll on friends, it takes a toll on people that love that individual and all individuals that have committed suicide.”

      The legislation stems partly from the work of the Subcommittee on Mental Health Policy Research, of which Lewis is a member and Buchheit-Courtway is the chairwoman.     

      The school-related provisions of the bill would take effect in the 2023-24 school year.

VIDEO: Parent speaks about bipartisan legislation on restraint and seclusion of students

A bipartisan effort to regulate when students can be restrained or isolated in Missouri schools is off to a quick start in the 2020 legislative session.

Representative Dottie Bailey (at podium) points to photos of some of the rooms that have been used in Missouri schools to isolate students. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representatives Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka) and Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis) have filed identical bills that would ban the use of seclusion or restraint except when students, teachers, or staff face safety concerns.  House Bills 1568 (Bailey) and 1569 (Mackey) would also require that when such measures are used, all parties involved except students write a report on the incident, and require that parents or guardians be notified that the measures were applied to their student.

Mackey first filed the legislation last year, after media reports brought to light the use of those measures in Missouri.  He said in the last year he has seen “tiny, empty closets built and designed solely for the purpose of isolating small children,” in Missouri schools.

“If a teacher was notified on Wednesday morning by a child that that child’s parent had locked them in a closet and would not let them out, what would that teacher do?  I can tell you as somebody who spent nearly 8 years in the classroom teaching, myself, as a mandated reporter I would make an initial call to the [child abuse and neglect hotline],” said Mackey.  “Yet in our schools right now in this state, that’s happening day in and day out.”

House Bill 1568 will be heard Tuesday morning by the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education.  This afternoon, Mackey and Bailey spoke to the media joined by parents who say their children have been restrained or secluded in an unacceptable manner.

They also displayed pictures of the some of the isolation rooms they have seen in Missouri schools, including one in the school that Shawan Daniels said her son was put in, in a Columbia school.

“Some kids have learning disabilities.  I don’t feel that a kid with learning disabilities should be put in this room because he acts a certain kind of way, because he’s not able to pick up on learning,” said Daniels.

Representatives Dottie Bailey (speaking), Ian Mackey (left) and Chuck Basye (center of photo) are joined by some parents who say their students were improperly restrained or secluded in Missouri schools. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Daniels said she learned that her son had been restrained about three hours after the incident.

“He came home and told me that his arm was hurting.  Maybe 30 minutes later the teachers called and said that Antwan had been in an incident and they had to put him under restraint and the time that they gave me he was put in a restraint as like 1:00, and he makes it home around 3:45,” said Daniels.

The legislation would require districts to enact policies limiting the use of restraints and isolation, but does not propose penalties for violating those limitations.  Both representatives say they are open to adding language to create penalties.

“It’s an open conversation,” said Mackey.  “It’s reasonable to say that there would be a way for [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] to review, to have a disciplinary system in place for reports that are made about teachers who misuse these rooms.  [Teaching is] a licensed profession.  Most licensed professions have disciplinary measures that at the greatest extent would cause your license to be either suspended or put on probation, or revoked.  I think that’s something we should look at,” said Mackey.

He said Illinois has had the same language he filed last year in its laws for 20 years but it was not being followed.

The lawmakers are enthused that this legislation is moving quickly in the first days of the legislative session that began last week.  They said it shows House leadership considers this an important issue.

“I think it’s awesome.  I think it’s great,” said Bailey.   “We hope it’s fast-tracked … kids and safety isn’t a bipartisan issue.  It’s just a human issue.  I couldn’t sleep at night if I heard this [when it was proposed last year] and I didn’t do anything about it, and I think Ian feels the same, so I’m thrilled to death to work with him … and to start out the session like this is great.”

The committee could vote on the legislation any time after the hearing is held on it.  Two House Committees approved Mackey’s proposal last year.

Earlier story:  House to consider restrictions on student restraint/seclusion in Missouri public schools