Satellite High achieves ‘suicide prevention certified school’ status

Satellite High School is one of two Brevard County high schools to earn the status of a “suicide prevention certified school.”

The state certification requires two hours of training with 100 percent participation of school staff, as well as follow up training. The training is done through an online program called “Act on Facts.”

“It provides awareness and it addresses the critical but limited role of educators in the process of identification and referral of potentially suicidal youth,” said Beth Thedy, assistant superintendent for student services.

Satellite High was recognized at the May 8 School Board meeting for achieving the certification criteria, along with Edgewood Junior/Senior High School. Madison Middle School, as well as Longleaf, Sunrise and Roosevelt elementary schools, have also earned the certification.

Satellite has been rocked by at least three student suicides during this school year and last. The most recent was that of Derek Fortmayer, 15, who took his own life on March 7.

That makes this designation even more important, School Board member Tina Descovich said.

“I think as a community, as a whole, we want to make sure that this never happens again,” Descovich said.

Overall, at least seven students in Brevard County committed suicide in the 2016-2017 school year, according to school district records released last year. Two of those were confirmed to be Satellite High students. Citing privacy laws, school district officials would not release specific numbers for this school year, other than to say the number is less than 10.

School district spokesperson Casey Piquero said the district is “aware of 12 suicides over the last two years.”

However, Piquero said the numbers may be inaccurate or incomplete as there is no formal reporting system that requires a cause of death to be revealed to schools or districts, and no state law that requires schools or districts to keep records of that information.

“I wish to give a disclaimer and that is, we are not aware of all circumstances,” Piquero said in an email. “Meaning if it was suicide and we are told heart failure, that is what we know. Of course there is also always the fact parents do not always want this information shared and we respect and abide by the rights and wishes of the parents.”

Records from the Brevard County Medical Examiner’s Office show that two people aged 18 or under committed suicide in the 2016 calendar year, six in that age group took their own lives in 2017, and so far in 2018 there has been one. The youngest of all those was 14. All died of either a gunshot wound or hanging.

The medical examiner’s office confirmed the single case in their records this year is Fortmayer.

Brevard schools also have another suicide prevention program available to them called Sources of Strength. As of March, Titusville, Astronaut and Space Coast high schools were certified in that program, as well as Madison and Jackson middle schools.

Paula Ferrell, a district resource teacher for students at risk, said the district is working to spread that and other programs district-wide, but budget constraints are an issue.

The district doesn’t have specific budget lines for mental health or suicide prevention, Ferrell said, so there’s no way to track how much money is spent on those programs each year.

“It’s a continuum because every school has school counselors and any problems would go to the school counselors,” Ferrell said. “Each school has different ways that they would provide mental health services to those students.”

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