In the months since Peyton's death, I have tried to figure out how I could make a difference. What will it take to open the eyes of those around me to the problem? It seems that a topic of life and death such as suicide would be something that educators and communities would want to address, but not so much. I have been told that by speaking about it, it could put the idea into a kid's head that suicide is ok. Personally, I thought that way of thinking went out with the idea you could get the clap from a toilet seat, but I was wrong. So how do you get educators to listen when they don't want to? The same way you make them teach a test that they don't want to, you make it a law.
After a student at my school took their life over the Christmas holidays, they gathered the staff in the cafeteria to address us on suicide prevention. The counselor began the presentation by telling us they "Had" to do this, and after viewing art work of one student from another school and telling us to look out for any student that talks or writes about death, or draws disturbing images like the ONE we saw, contact a counselor. After that we were sent on our merry way ready to save the world with information we could normally have gotten from a pamphlet.
During lunch, I decided to make good use of my time. I looked up the Texas state law regarding suicide prevention training for teachers. I used the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website to see the laws in various states. To my horror, I discovered that Texas requires that minimum academic qualifications for certified educators also require instruction in the detection of students with mental or emotional disorders; also requires that school districts provide at least a one-time training for teachers, counselors, principals, and other appropriate personnel to learn to recognize students at risk for suicide or in need of early mental health intervention. I thought about whether, before that day, I had received any training in the time since 2013 when that law had been passed, and I couldn't.
While perusing that same Website, I saw the mention of the Jason Flatt Act. I went to the Jason Foundation Website to learn more about the Jason Flatt Act. Not only that, the program was offered free of charge to any entity that wanted to use it, and had been passed in 13 states already (Georgia recently became 14). Now Texas had just gone through an election cycle, and both my state representative, Mark Keough, and state senator, Brandon Creighton, were new. I went to their respective web pages and emailed them immediately. I asked for their help regarding legislation such as the Jason Flatt Act, and despite the fact it wouldn't help Peyton, it could help the students of Texas and keep them from making the same choice as Peyton.
After a month, I still hadn't heard from either Keough or Creighton, I decided to write to them again, but this time, I decided to cover moe of my bases, I also wrote to every member of the House and Senate Education Committees as well as Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Governor Greg Abbott. I also went on my Products for Peyton Facebook page, my regular Facebook page, every Facebook Group I am a member of, and my Twitter account encouraging others to write to their state legislators as well. As I sat at home that night, my phone buzzed letting me know some one had replied to one of my many posts. I apologize for forgetting who it was and denying them credit, but they informed me of SB1169 in the Texas Senate. I read the bill and suddenly became invigorated. This is what I had been looking for. Once again, I shared this information on social media, and the response was overwhelmingly in favor.
The next day I began yet another email campaign to all the same people I mentioned before. This time, I was contacted by a staffer in Governor Abbot's office, and he assured me that this bill was on the Governor's watch list, and that it was a priority. Emboldened even more, I began to call the offices of Senator Diane Campbell, the bill's sponsor, and Senator Larry Taylor, chair of the Senate Education Committee. I also kept up my emails to other members of the Education Committee as well as constant posts on social media encouraging people to call, and providing updates on the bills progress.
One night, as I was sitting at home, I received a tweet from a man named John Horton who had seen one of my posts about SB1169. He said he was a political strategist and asked me to call him. When I called him, I discovered that I was not alone in the world. He told me about The Jason Flatt Act, Texas-In Honor of Johnathan Childers. It was spearheaded by Coach Kevin Childress from Fairfield, Texas. Coach Childers had lost his 15 year old son Johnathan in August of 2013. His group worked with State Representative Byron Cook to get the bill introduced to the legislature in Austin. In March of 2015, it was introduced as HB2186.
Although John told me that he would send my information to Coach Childers to have him contact me, I couldn't wait. I emailed him the next morning telling him Peyton's story and my desire to be involved. He quickly responded in kind, and invited me to come to Austin the following week to help him lobby for the bill. We continued to communicate through out the week. As fellow survivors, we had a great deal in common, including the fact that we truly understood what the other has gone through, frustration at school systems that spent countless hours training teachers how to teach a test, and our desire to keep what happened to our sons from ever happening to another young person.
When I met Coach Childers at the Capitol, we embraced and he began to fill me in on what we would be doing. He laid out who we wold be meeting with and what would be discussed. It was a whirlwind day as we went from meeting to meeting. I listened to Coach Childers passionately explain the purpose of the bill, the changes that had been made in the committee hearing. After the first few meetings, I felt confident enough to speak up as well. The majority of the people we met with seemed receptive to the bill, and by the time I had gotten in my truck and headed back toward Houston, I finally felt hopeful. I felt that we were on the verge of making a huge difference for teh children of Texas.
A few days later, HB2186, with 120 coauthors, passed the Texas House 139-3. A few days later, with Coach Childers and his family on the floor of the Senate, SB1169 passed the State Senate 29-1.
The House bill adopted the Senate language, and was passed out of the Senate Education committee. Now it is back to the House for concurrence. Although the fight will not be over until Governor Abbot signs it into law, I remain optimistic.
The process is never easy. There are hoops to jump through, egos to soothe, supporters to appease, but first and foremost, the children of Texas will be the ones that benefit. As Coach Childers said, "We can't teach them if they aren't in the desks."