Explosive student suicide rates prompt Nevada county to partially reopen schools

It is no secret that coronavirus lockdowns are hitting K-12 students particularly hard. Not only are they being robbed of an in-person education, they are missing out on critical emotional development and social interaction. 

But, this school district has had enough. 

The fifth largest school district in the United States will begin the process of filtering students back to in-person learning following an exponential rise in student suicides. 

In the final nine months of 2020, eighteen students in Nevada’s Clark County School District took their own lives, a devastating increase from the nine suicides the district saw in the past year, per the U.S. Census Bureau

“When we started to see the uptick in children taking their own lives, we knew it wasn’t just the Covid numbers we need to look at anymore,” Clark County superintendent Jesus Jara told the New York Times. “We have to find a way to put our hands on our ids, to see them, to look at them.” 

“They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope,” Jara added. 

The youngest student was just nine years old. 

In a statement, the district said it would allow schools to bring back “high-need students” as soon as possible. 

However, there are a few caveats. 

Principals and teachers will evaluate academic data and the social-emotional needs of students to determine whom they think would most benefit from in-person experiences, whether for tutoring, credit retrieval, mental health sessions or other matters. Those students would then be invited on a voluntary basis and transportation would be provided, according to the Nevada Independent. 

“I hope that parents and teachers and administrators give us their time and their patience, because there’s no such thing as a comprehensive plan and I think that we all know that being adults,” Trustee Katie Williams said. “That said, I think we need hope.” 

Indeed, without in-person instruction, there is a gap in mental health resources that has yet to be filled. 

Clark County has looked into ways to fill that gap. 

Following their sixth suicide in July, the district invested in the GoGuardian Beacon alert system, which scans students writings on district-issued iPads for suicide risk. During the few months after implementing the system, they received over 3,000 alerts, Business Insider reports. 

By November, the district upgraded to 24-hour-monitoring and tracked severe cases. 

“I couldn’t sleep with my phone nearby anymore,” Jara said. “It was like a 24-hour reminder that we needed to get our schools open.” 

In November, the district was able to intervene when a 12-year-old student looked up “how to make a noose” on a school-issued iPad, according to local news station KSNV. The school was able to contact the child’s father before it was too late. 

A CDC study found that across the country between April and October of 2020, the percentage of emergency room mental health visits increased by 24 percent for those between the ages of five and 11, and 31 percent for those between the ages of 12 and 17, Business Insider reports. 

If it wasn’t clear, it should be now: we must reopen schools so students can flourish once again.