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Black Hills community members may be aware that many Rapid City Area Schools students and staff have had a sad start to their school year. Since the middle of July, eight RCAS students and one staff member have died. Three of those deaths were suicides.

Suicide is a subject that many would rather not discuss, but we must address it. There are so many students who are hurting right now. Suicide does more than end one life — it creates a ripple effect throughout a community, as surviving family members and friends experience a range of grief and emotions.

The safety of our students is truly our number one priority. It may sound cliché, but it is the absolute truth. Oftentimes, when school officials talk about student safety, the first thing that comes to mind is preventing a dangerous intruder from getting into a school building, or surviving a natural disaster. The fact is suicides are the second leading cause of death among teens ages 15 to 19. It is an ever-present threat and one that must be addressed on an ongoing basis.

Our community must work together to address suicide, as it is an issue that goes beyond the boundaries of our schools. By having the conversation about the often-taboo subject, we can work to educate our community about the warning signs of suicide and remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. Most importantly, we can ensure that our young people know how and where to get help.

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This Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the City/School Administration Building in the Council Chambers, Rapid City Area Schools will host a meeting for parents and others in the community to provide information about common reactions following a suicide and how adults can help our youth cope.

Mental health experts and law enforcement officers in our community will also provide information about suicide and mental illness in adolescents — including risk factors and warning signs of suicide — and will address attendees’ questions and concerns.

I hope you will join us. Whether you are looking for solutions for your teen who is struggling with a recent loss, or just want to educate yourself — please attend. This is an important discussion and the starting point of a broader conversation that must include multiple community members and agencies working toward one goal: keeping our kids safe.

Lori Simon is the superintendent of Rapid City Area Schools.

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