Boston, MA – State Sen. Barry Finegold last week filed the Safety and Violence Education for Students (SAVE Students) Act in the Massachusetts State Senate. The legislation is aimed at combating the crisis of violence, bullying, and suicide that is devastating our nation’s schools. If passed, this bill would set a new national standard for statewide school safety programming.
The legislation would require that all middle and high school students in the state have access to evidence-based programming that teaches how to combat social isolation and build inclusive community, identify the signs and signals of interpersonal violence and suicide, and how to reach out for help. It would also establish a statewide anonymous reporting system to collect tips and information about potential threats to the safety of Massachusetts students.
The bill is supported by Sandy Hook Promise, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The organization provides educational programming aimed at preventing school violence.
“What happened in Sandy Hook and far too many times since can never happen again. This legislation is a pro-active approach to help kids before they do harm to themselves or to others,” said Finegold. “The commonsense solutions created by this bill will save lives.”
Sandy Hook Promise’s programming has already been used in area schools. In 2017, Tewksbury’s Wynn Middle School, the Brookside, Englesby and Greenmont Avenue elementary schools in Dracut, and Dracut High School participated in “Start With Hello Week,” a program that promotes connectedness and inclusion and helps students to identify and help others who are showing signs of social isolation.
The SAVE Students Act was also filed in the Massachusetts House by state Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster.
“Students play an integral role in ending stigma around mental health and can have the most impact in changing school culture,” she said. “I am excited to work with Sandy Hook Promise on the SAVE Students Act to help Massachusetts students build stronger community, identify the signs and signals of violence and suicide, and support each other in creating safer schools.”
Additionally, the SAVE Students Act would ensure that all Massachusetts schools have a designated school threat assessment team that is trained on how to identify and intervene when threats of violence are made and how to get students help before a crisis. The establishment of school threat assessment teams was a leading recommendation from mental health and safety experts following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
“All students should be able to learn and grow in environments that are inclusive, supportive, and free of violence,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “My office is honored to be partnering with Sandy Hook Promise to implement a $1 million grant to expand school-based violence prevention programs, mental health training, and suicide prevention to nearly 140,000 students across Massachusetts. There is nothing more important than protecting the safety and wellness of our young people, and this bill is an important step forward.”
In response to the introduction of this legislation, Sandy Hook Promise released the following statement: “We know school violence is preventable when we teach youth and adults to ‘know the signs’ of violence and suicide and get help to stop a tragedy before it happens,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. “This legislation would protect Massachusetts’ students across the state and create a national model for prevention that empowers our youth to help save lives.”
To date, more than 5.5 million people nationwide have been trained in Sandy Hook Promise’s proven Know the Signs programs that focus on prevention to help end the epidemic of gun violence by training youth and adults how to identify at-risk behavior and intervene to get help before a tragedy can occur. Through these no-cost programs, Sandy Hook Promise has averted countless school shooting plots, teen suicides, and other acts of violence.