- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - It’s been a little more than two years since Cady Housh ended her life by stepping into a train’s path two days after her Olathe Northwest High School friend, a fellow junior and soccer teammate, had killed herself. Both girls were 16.

Cathy Housh, Cady’s mother, acknowledges that she didn’t recognize her daughter’s downward spiral in her final months as a prelude to suicide. But she believes Cady Housh’s teachers also could have done more in response to the girl’s warning signs, including her suddenly failing grades.

“I know that her teachers, at least most of them, cared about her,” Housh said Thursday. “But I don’t know why nobody stepped up and wanted to take her situation more serious than they did.”

Housh is supporting a bill pending in the Kansas Legislature that would require teachers to have two hours of online suicide prevention training each year in an effort to spot warning signs and learn how best to intervene.

The bill, now before a Kansas Senate committee, would create a law similar to one already on the books in 16 states, most of them modeled after the Jason Flatt Act. Flatt was a 16-year-old Tennessee boy who killed himself in 1997. Pending Missouri legislation calls for the state’s school districts to adopt policies for youth suicide awareness and prevention education. If passed, the Kansas and Missouri laws would take effect next year.

“This doesn’t make them a counselor or anything, but it helps them recognize the (warning) signs,” Kansas state Sen. Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, said of the measure he introduced at Housh’s request. “This, in my view, is codifying human decency.”

“When you can do something to save someone’s life and it costs nothing, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Smith, a middle-school social studies teacher and former police officer whose daughter was abducted and killed in 2007.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death of people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the U.S., accounting for roughly 4,600 deaths each year, 80 percent of them males, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 157,000 people in the same age group get medical attention at emergency rooms for self-inflicted injuries, the agency said.

During a recent Senate Education Committee hearing on Smith’s measure, several Kansas parents who lost sons and daughters to suicide pressed the case for the training. No opponents testified.

The Kansas Department of Education stood neutral, saying through general counsel Scott Gordon that the state’s Board of Education soon will take up a proposal for suicide-prevention training for all school employees, not just licensed ones as called for under Smith’s measure.

Gordon asked the committee to allow the state’s governing education board “to fulfill its constitutionally-given obligation of determining what is best for Kansas schools.”

A spokesman for the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s biggest teachers’ union, said “our teachers support anything that’s going to curb a tragedy like this for our kids.” But Marcus Baltzell questions whether the training Smith proposes will remain free or become a financial pressure on schools in the already cash-strapped state.

Allie Doss considers the training a potential tool that can’t hurt. Last July, her 16-year-old daughter, a would-be junior in Shawnee Mission South High’s gifted program, took her life, never having displayed anything other than what her mother calls “normal teenage frustration.”

Doss, whose father also committed suicide in 1989, said she doesn’t blame the school, “but I wish they did more than just pep rallies” in dealing with troubled kids.

“Do I think two hours of training is going to be the magic number? No,” said Doss, 34 and now of Belton, Missouri. “But having it mandated in Kansas brings awareness that this is an epidemic.”

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