South Orange-Maplewood Schools New Suicide Prevention Policy Aims to ‘Change Lives & Save Lives’

by Mary Barr Mann
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Changes to the South Orange-Maplewood School District’s Suicide Prevention Policy will now help to change lives and save lives, according to Board of Education 1st Vice President Shannon Cuttle.

At the adoption of the updated policy [#5350 — see below] on August 16, Cuttle thanked “all of my colleagues for your efforts the past two years on working towards the suicide prevention policy,” but singled out fellow board members Erin Siders and Susan Bergin, as well as administrators Ann Bodnar and Matthew Friedman, for their help.

“This is a very important policy for us to pass,” said Cuttle, who called the policy “an effort to talk about our student health and wellness and student supports and the importance of social emotional learning, and making sure that we are creating preventative measures that are for our most vulnerable student populations.”

“When this was first brought up through C&I [Curriculum & Instruction Committee], we knew that this was something that we had to tackle as a district, not just to create support systems and better policy, but implementation,” said Cuttle.

Cuttle grew emotional as they spoke: “And that was the key function here, not just to make sure that we have policy and it’s on paper, but that we have something where we have training, intervention and support systems and staff, because we know when students feel that someone cares about them, a staff member, an adult in a school building cares about them, it can change lives, it can save lives, but it also better improves, not just academic, but emotional and behavioral support of that student as well.”

“Additionally, it would be remiss if I did not say that during COVID, we know that it’s been more challenging for students and a recent Trevor Project survey … reported that more than 70% of young people reported that they were in poor mental health, and our most marginalized students — our Black and brown students and our LGBTQ students, our students who don’t have support systems at home – were suffering the most. And we know that from that data, even before that, between 2009 and 2019, one in three students were facing a mental health crisis.”

Cuttle noted that the district would also be creating a resource page, “that’s going to be attached as an addendum to our district website so students and families and staff can see access to resources immediately and know ways to respond in case of a crisis.”

Cuttle told Village Green that they will be following up on the creation of the resource page. In the meantime, Cuttle asked that the links for the following resources be posted:

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