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Pledge Of Allegiance, Suicide Prevention Training Among Bills That Survived Session

MGN Online

Despite stalling in the legislature, a number of bills still managed to stay alive on the last day of session and were sent to Governor Rick Scott. That includes a measure involving the recital of the Pledge of allegiance in schools as well as another dealing with youth suicide prevention training.

Hannah Jines is a teacher from Lakeland. About seven years ago, her father committed suicide.

“On January 12, 2009, at 8 o’ clock, my uncle had called me and his exact words were, ‘there was an accident and your father didn’t make it,’” she said. “Now, I knew my dad had been struggling with depression and alcoholism, PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], and so, in the pit of my stomach, I knew it wasn’t an accident, I knew it was a suicide. At first, no one in my family wanted to admit that it was a suicide, and no one definitely wanted to talk about it.”

She says stigma is one of the worst parts of losing someone to suicide.

“The stigma was so strong that our Pastor refused to let us name the church in his obituary,” Jines added.

Jines says it was around that time, she started getting depressed.

“My father was a retired Master Chief in the Navy. He served 25 dedicated years and he was so put together,” she continued. “No one would have ever thought that he would have ever taken his life. I never thought that I would have experienced a suicide in my family. Unfortunately, mental illness does not discriminate. I felt like I had this picture perfect family and it was just shattered. I went through the darkest time in my life. I battled depression myself, afterwards, and I wanted to end my own life.”

She says it was only after she found a support group, where there was no stigma, that she started to heal.

Jines says she’s also healing by joining groups that allow her to be a suicide prevention advocate. And, about two months ago, she joined others in asking lawmakers to approve a bill aimed at establishing prevention efforts in the classroom.

“One of the top issues that we’re asking our legislators is to support training for educators and how to respond when a student is in distress and may be at risk for suicide. As a teacher myself, I know many of my colleagues are not aware of the signs to look for when it comes to suicide prevention, but they’re willing to learn.”

The original measure stalled in the House and Senate. It was later included in a controversial school choice bill, and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers) says she’s grateful to incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran for getting that done.

“Thanks to him, it became a reality,” she said, on the last day of session. “And, we hope the Governor signs it. It’s really amazing that we could work together to put forward that initiative. And, we know just about a year ago, 34 children, ages 10-14, took their own lives. So, this is very meaningful. If we can have folks armed in the classroom to help those kids, it makes us very proud.”

Another measure included in that so-called school choice bill deals with the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. It too had stalled in the legislative process, with only hearings in the House.

It was a priority for House bill sponsor Rep. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze) as well as Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola Beach), who also sponsored the measure. He says he’s glad the measure managed to stay alive.

“Well, I’m pleased that it did,” he said, at session's end. “It’s an important thing that we do say the Pledge. We know there’s a First Amendment right that if you elect to not say it, that’s fine. And, our current statute says that it must be displayed in a conspicuous place. What this bill did is just make it more clear that the student handbook is a conspicuous enough place so that it doesn’t have to be plastered on every single classroom wall.”

Hill says it’s especially important to so many members of their districts.

“There’s a large military presence in the Panhandle,” he added. “And, what we found was that it was one person who didn’t want her child to say the Pledge of Allegiance—who by the way that child says it every day now on his own voluntarily. And, the school superintendent had received an opinion from his legal counsel who told him he needed to post it in every classroom. Well, we thought it was just an overreach.”

Hill and Broxson had agreed to file the measure, after public outcry during a town hall meeting last year about the displayed classroom signs, telling students they’re not required to recite the Pledge.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.