State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson thanked Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday for signing legislation requiring schools that serve students from grades 7 to 12 to adopt suicide prevention policies.
Torlakson supported AB 2246 by Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach and Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. The bill, signed on Monday, September 26, requires the California Department of Education (CDE) to develop and maintain a model suicide prevention policy.
“With this change, we can better identify students in need, get them help, and keep them safe,” Torlakson said. “One of my top priorities is serving the needs of the whole child, including their mental health needs. This bill is a big step forward in our ongoing efforts to help our students.”
“As classroom teacher, I know from experience that educators often serve as the first line of defense when a student is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts,” said Assembly Member O’Donnell. “AB 2246 will provide parents, teachers, and schools with the tools they need to help save the lives of at-risk youth.”
Torlakson is a longtime supporter of expanding mental health services and preventing suicides. When Torlakson served in the California State Senate in 2004, he was state co-chair of the campaign for Proposition 63, a measure that increased income taxes on the wealthy to fund mental health programs.
As State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Torlakson convened a Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup. The group of 40 experts has conducted 20 free trainings in suicide prevention across the state for more than 500 teachers.
Earlier this year, CDE released the Healthy Kids Survey, which describes how students feel about school and how they rank their school environment.
The survey showed schools need to focus more attention on better meeting the needs of youth. For example, two indicators of depression risk showed little change since the last survey two years ago.
Nearly one-fourth of seventh graders and around one-third of ninth and eleventh graders reported feelings of chronic sadness or hopelessness. And, almost 20 percent of high school students had seriously contemplated suicide.
Torlakson in 2014 released a letter encouraging school districts to adopt suicide prevention policies. Under the new law, each district will be required to adopt suicide policies beginning with the 2017-18 school year.
In 2014, there were nearly 2,300 suicide attempts by students 15 to 19 years old in California.