A-313

“Requires certain additional school district personnel to complete training program on suicide prevention.”

NJEA supports A-313 (Singleton, Lampitt, Quijano, Pintor Marin, Vainieri Huttle).  This legislation is designed to broaden professional development and training in suicide prevention required for public school teaching staff members, and any other school district employee who has regular and direct contact with students.

There is nothing more heartbreaking for a teacher than trying to help a student who is in distress.  NJEA empathizes with the sponsor’s intent to ensure that employees of a school district have the appropriate professional development and training needed to identify students who are at risk for suicide.

A-313 would require The Department of Education -- in consultation with the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Human Services, the New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council, suicide prevention experts, and interested education stakeholders to develop and identify training programs on suicide prevention, awareness and response. Specifically, this legislation would require:

  • A one-time training program in suicide prevention, awareness and response developed or identified by the Department of Education to be completed by a school employee or an employee of a contracted service provider who has regular and direct contact with students (as determined by the board of education).
  • An educational fact sheet that the Department will update annually, on suicide prevention, awareness and response that shall include model guidance, best practices -- including the use of table-top exercises -- and educational resources to assist school districts in developing their own suicide prevention, awareness and response protocols.
    • This fact sheet will also be used to strengthen the two hours of professional development in suicide prevention currently mandated by P.L.2005, c.310 that requires teachers to complete in each professional development period.
  • School districts to provide information concerning its compliance in the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum Statement of Assurance (NJQSAC)

NJEA understands professional development and training plays an essential role in providing teachers with the skills, knowledge and resources they need to improve student learning and success. It is why we advocate for authentic professional learning that is designed around the needs of students.  This legislation believes that teachers are in one of the best positions to recognize the signs of a student at risk for suicide.  NJEA is very aware of the position that puts our members in and that is why we worked with the sponsor to achieve the most appropriate legislation possible for students and educators.  However, this legislature should understand that educators have the least amount of input when it comes to what is important for their students.  When the current educator evaluation regulations were adopted, the Department of Education pretty much eliminated Professional Development Committees at the county, district and school building level.  These committees had the input of teachers, staff members, students, parents and the community.  Members of the school district professional development committee had the ability to survey and decide exactly what professional development was to be developed based on the needs of their learning community.  This was authentic and meaningful professional learning that allowed teachers to have input and decide what was best for their student population.  Unfortunately, the teacher’s voice has been replaced by a top-down set of professional development requirements decided by administrators. 

Presently, teachers are required to complete at least 20 professional development hours per year that includes training on reading disabilities including dyslexia, harassment and bullying, substance abuse and other global compliance issues.  Most of these 20 hours are decided by the legislature, the Department of Education or evaluation results.  Teachers have very little say in what their professional development should include.

NJEA believes, and the research shows, that all of these professional development mandates will mean nothing if teachers do not have the time and ability to build relationships with their students.  Sadly, in this current education climate of high stakes testing, numerical student growth objectives, student growth percentiles, evaluations that require endless hours of documentation and teaching in isolation, our students have become measures of teacher accountability instead of human beings with unlimited potential.  

Section 2. a. of A-313 states that:

 “The instruction in suicide prevention shall include information on the relationship between the risk of suicide and incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying and information on reducing the risk of suicide in students who are members of communities identified as having members at high risk of suicide.”

It is imperative to understand that one of the best and surest ways for educators to be able to recognize students who are at risk for suicide, incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying is if they truly know them.  Teachers and other education staff members need the opportunity to concentrate on who their students are and what they need and want for their future.  And that happens best when teachers have some autonomy in their classrooms.

NJEA is proud to support legislation that will benefit our students and that is why we encourage you to vote YES on A-313.