Two bills aimed at tackling behavioral health in students pass Colorado legislative committee

Posted at 6:29 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 20:54:09-05

DENVER — Two of the bills that were recommended by the School Safety Interim committee passed their first committee vote Thursday.

The committee was formed in the wake of the STEM Highlands Ranch school shooting that claimed the life of Kendrick Castillo.

Senate Bill 1 expands the behavioral health training for educators to be able to better spot and help students dealing with behavioral health issues.

“Teachers are in many ways, the mental-health first responders for our kids. They exist on the frontlines of our child suicide crisis, and they need our help,” said bill sponsor Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Arapahoe County. “We must give educators the necessary tools to support students when they desperately need it, or we will continue to see kids struggle in silence."

Senate Bill 14, meanwhile, would instruct the Colorado Board of Education and school districts to adopt a policy that would allow students to take an excused absence for a mental health day.

Hanna Newman, a junior at Lakewood High School, said she has felt the pressure from school and her family to perform at a high level in her AP classes and that can be stressful.

“In my math class I feel really stressed because I’m taking a test,” Newman said.

She also knows that some of her friends and classmates are dealing with peer pressure and the pressure to present a perfect life on social media.

“Your Instagram page is supposed to be all these pictures of you smiling and you’re having fun with all your friends,” Newman said. “It doesn’t show how you’re feeling actually.”

She believes this bill would help student handle the pressure a little better by taking some time for themselves and admitting when they don’t feel okay.

Kari Eckert, who lost her son Robbie to suicide in 2018, testified in favor of the bills Thursday.

“Our kids are struggling alone silently. There’s a lot of stigma. There’s a lot of pressure being a teenager,” Eckert said. “Suicide is preventable. It’s really hard to accept, but it’s the truth.”

In the wake of her son’s death, Eckert and her husband created the Robbie’s Hope foundation, focused on helping students understand that, as its motto says, it’s okay not to be okay.

She hopes these bills will help students so that no other families have to feel the pain hers has experienced.

Lawmakers who sponsored the bills believe they will be able to prevent not only suicides but also school shootings.

The bills passed a vote in the senate education committee Thursday and are heading to the next committee for consideration.