In full transparency, the following is a press release from the Senate President’s office submitted to SOURCE media. (stock photo)
BOSTON _ The Massachusetts State Senate on Friday, July 29, passed An Act relative to safety and violence education for students, also known as the SAVE Students Act, to strengthen school safety and protect students from being harmed.
To address the issues of school violence and teen suicide, the bill expands violence prevention and suicide awareness programming in schools, creates an anonymous reporting system for tips related to student safety concerns, and tasks the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) with developing a model threat assessment policy for responding to dangerous activity.
“My heart breaks for the tragedies that we have seen again and again in schools across our nation—at Uvalde, at Sandy Hook, and at Columbine,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Equally as tragic, but not always so visible, are the mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety, that young people are facing. The ability of schools to understand and support the mental health needs of their students is key to tackling these overlapping issues. I want to thank Senator Finegold for his insight into how Massachusetts can better address these issues and his leadership on this bill, and Chairs Rodrigues and Lewis for reviewing this bill and adding to it.”
Having passed the Senate, the SAVE Students Act will now go on to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
“With today’s passage of the SAVES Act, we are taking a critical and vital step to create safer schools, ensuring students will be empowered to act and help saves lives,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D- Westport) Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I want to thank Senate President for her strong support and Senator Finegold for his leadership on this critical issue. With many students struggling with mental health in the shadow of the pandemic, the Senate’s passage of this legislation puts us one step closer to providing school districts with the tools to build stronger and more resilient communities.”
“Kids need to feel safe to learn and grow and thrive,” said Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair on the Joint Committee on Education. “I’m glad the Senate and House are working together to keep children safe from gun violence at school. Thank you to the advocates who have been working tirelessly on this issue.”
“We need to do everything we can to keep our kids safe,” said Senator Barry R. Finegold (D- Andover), lead sponsor of the bill. “Losing a child to suicide or a school shooting is a parent’s worst nightmare, and the SAVE Students Act takes much-needed steps to prevent these catastrophes. This bill will help change school culture and empower students to speak up about threats of violence towards others or self-harm. I want to thank the founders of Sandy Hook Promise for their incredible strength to share their stories and turn their grief into a call to action. I also would like to thank the Senate President, Chair Rodrigues, Chair Lewis, and my House co-sponsor Representative Higgins for their partnership on this bill.”
This session, Senator Finegold developed the SAVE Students Act in partnership with Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit created to teach the warning signs of potential violence and led by those whose loved ones were killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Research proves that the most effective way to prevent school shootings, violence, and suicide is teaching youth and adults the warning signs and how to get help” said Mark Barden, co-founder and CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund, and father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. “We are grateful to Senator Finegold for doing all he can to make lifesaving violence prevention training available to Massachusetts students.”
The SAVE Students Act is a response to two concurrent crises: a school shooting crisis and a youth mental health crisis. In the past 25 years, over 310,000 students have been exposed to gun violence during school, and more than 185 students, educators and other personnel have been shot and killed. In addition, between 2007 and 2018, suicide rates rose by more than 57 per cent for those aged 10 to 24. The SAVE Students Act complements the Legislature’s ongoing efforts on comprehensive gun safety and behavioral health reforms.
The SAVE Students Act tasks the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) with establishing a 24/7 crisis center able to receive anonymous tips submitted through a mobile app, website, or toll-free telephone line. The anonymous reporting program would enable students to come forward safely with tips about dangerous or life-threatening activity. If the department receives a credible threat, it will work with the relevant schools and law enforcement agencies to address the threat. Many other states already operate similar reporting programs, which have helped prevent suicide, self-harm, and planned school attacks.
The bill also couples its anonymous reporting program with accompanying educational curricula to address student violence, social isolation, and self-harm. EOHHS would disseminate program awareness materials and violence prevention trainings to schools, with trainings emphasizing the importance of taking threats seriously and teaching students how to identify warning signs. The legislation requires that the DESE publicize lists of available social inclusion and suicide awareness programming. Under the bill, schools would not be mandated to adopt this programming but would report annually about whether they do. These reports would help target outreach to communities that need additional support.
Furthermore, the SAVE Students Act requires DESE to develop a model threat assessment policy for middle and high schools. According to the Department of Homeland Security, four out of five students who perpetrate school shootings give prior indications that they intend to do so. DESE’s model policy would guide schools to have specific protocols for identifying and intervening against potentially dangerous situations, in collaboration with other community stakeholders.