By Caitlin Barbieri
Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Va. – A resolution urging Virginia schools to increase their suicide prevention efforts has failed as Republicans on a House Rules subcommittee defeated the proposal in a 3-4 vote.
HJ 138, introduced by Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, would have asked all school boards to offer every employee resources or training on how to identify students at risk of committing suicide.
Roem told the subcommittee she had two reasons for making the resolution a request instead of a requirement. “One, we don’t have to (have) concern for it being an unfunded mandate” – a state-imposed cost that Republicans frequently oppose on principle.
“And second, we make sure this provides as much flexibility at the local level as possible,” Roem said. “This is allowing the people who are on the ground there to identify and figure out what works best for them.”
However, Republican Del. Gregory Habeeb of Salem, a member of the subcommittee, voted against the resolution because he said it doesn’t go far enough.
“This resolution doesn’t do anything to force school boards to train their teachers,” Habeeb said. “We need to find a vehicle to actually do it.”
Virginia law requires that teachers and faculty members report any student they suspect to be at risk of committing suicide, but it does not require that school employees be trained on how to identify such students.
A mother whose child committed suicide, Emily Fleming of Manassas, spoke in support of Roem’s resolution. She said training of school employees could have saved her son’s life.
“I’ve heard many times from teachers and friends that they noticed something was wrong with David, but they thought he just wanted to be alone so they left him alone,” Fleming said. “Now imagine if anyone on the staff had recognized those silent signs. My son might still be here today.”
Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Fairfax, another member of the subcommittee, voted for the resolution at the panel’s meeting last week. He thought it was killed in an effort to keep government small.
“I don’t think we should just willy-nilly get involved in people’s lives,” Plum said. “But there are sometimes things that relate to an individual that are bigger than that single person – that have an impact on society – and I think suicide is one of them.”