Legislation supported by Cody students and faculty to make suicide prevention education the law of the state is one step closer to becoming a reality.
The Joint Education Committee of the Wyoming Legislature has passed an amendment to the Jason Flatt Act that would require school districts to provide to suicide prevention education for their students.
The amendment was proposed by Cody High School psychologist Dr. Daniel Cossaboon and had the support of the Cody School District, multiple professional organizations, and prevention specialists from counties around the state.
The amendment passed the committee in a 9-4 vote. Both Cody-area representatives Sen. Hank Coe (R-Cody) and Rep. David Northrup (R-Powell) voted in favor of the bill, with the language changed to require districts to provide the prevention training.
The JEC, made up of both members of the state Senate and House of Representatives, advanced the bill further along in the legislative process. The bill must face further scrutiny in both chambers once the 2021 session starts before making it to the governor’s desk.
Legislators on the committee raised concerns about putting yet another unfunded mandate on school districts, the cost of suicide prevention programs in general and the support for those types of programs in the legislature.
“I ran a budget amendment last year to dump $8 million into suicide prevention in the House of Representatives and it was defeated,” said Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne). “So, I’m not sure that we’re that serious about suicide prevention.”
Brown also said he would be in favor of taking something else off the plate of teachers to give them time to provide the training, but wanted to hear what that something would be first. The training Cossaboon suggested would take roughly an hour of class time.
Other legislators raised concerns about the state interfering in something that is a local issue.
“I think the appropriate way to do this is for the citizens to approach their local school district boards and say, ‘We want this taught in our schools.’ That’s the way it should be,” said Rep. Evan Simpson (R-Afton).
Those who testified in favor of the bill argued that it needed to be required and that education leaders needed to lead the charge.
“As much as we’d like for all students to be connected, they’re not,” said CHS senior Soffy Anderson. “Everyone comes from different places and different groups. Personally, I would love to be part of something that would push awareness of this, but personally, I think it needs to come from somebody that everyone would consider to be a leader.”
Supporters of the bill argued saving lives was more important than other things districts were required to teach.
“If something else has to slide off the plate because we do this right, I’m okay with that,” said Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie). “This is just more important than some of the other things we teach. If we have to let something else suffer a little bit so we can get this right and prevent deaths and make sure our students survive, that’s more important than anything else we’re doing.”