By Joseph Choi
The Clark County School District is moving to partially reopen schools in response to a surge of student suicides, The New York Times reports.
Eighteen students in the county took their own lives in the final nine months of 2020, the Times reports, leading the Clark County school board to approve returning some elementary school grades and struggling classes back to in-person learning despite the continuing spread of the coronavirus.
“When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the COVID numbers we need to look at anymore,” said Clark County superintendent Jesus Jara.
“We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.”
According to Jara, the 18 suicides in the nine months that schools have been closed is double the number of suicides recorded in the school district in the entire previous year. The youngest student to kill themselves was nine years old.
The pandemic has had a devastating effect on students’ mental health, grades and attendance around the world and health and education experts have struggled with the best way to protect students — and the faculty, staff and family members who may be more vulnerable — while
tending to their mental health and education. In Virginia’s largest school district, the number of F’s nearly doubled among middle school and high school students.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has called for schools to remain open if at all possible, saying there is a way for them to do so safely.
The Times reports that Clark County, which includes the city of Las Vegas, invested in the GoGuardian Beacon alert system following the sixth student suicide. The system monitors student writing on iPads provided by the school district, looking for suicide risks. More than 31,000 alerts were made between the months of June and October.
Las Vegas school officials were able to intervene in November when a 12-year-old boy searched “how to make a noose” on his iPad, according to the Times. The school district was able to reach the boy’s father who walked into his son’s room to find a noose around his neck before it was too late.
Schools and colleges across the country are struggling to find the resources to help their students. The Clark County district recently began a pilot program that allowed face-to-face counseling. Thirty interventions were held due to the program identifying students who were considering suicide.
Jara told the Times that he does not sleep with his phone near him anymore. “I can’t get these alerts anymore,” said Jara. “I have no words to say to these families anymore. I believe in God, but I can’t help but wonder: Am I doing everything possible to open our schools?”
People experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resource