(BOSTON–07/30/2022) The Massachusetts State Senate on Friday 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.
Senator Michael D. Brady (D-Brockton) announces “that with tremendous help from the Senate President and my fellow Senators we address a parent’s worse nightmare – losing a child to suicide or a school shooting. This bill will help change school culture and empower students to speak up about threats of violence towards others or self-harm.”
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.