SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of students from across the state were at the Capitol Wednesday to debate an issue that hits close to home: bullying.
“I definitely had situations with bulling, as I’m sure everybody has,” Woods Cross student Lauren Johnson said. “I’ve definitely had family members that have told me and been affected by it.”
The Utah League of Cities and Towns hosted the 600 high school students from more than 40 cities around the state. It was an opportunity for the students to see the legislative process.
The students debated potential anti-bullying legislation in a mock committee hearing. The amendments were based on state laws from other states and were compared to current Utah anti-bullying legislation.
The mock amendments dealt with the definition of bullying, the definition of cyberbullying, whether or not schools should have the enforcement power and authority over cyberbullying, as well as school punishments and criminal punishments for bullying.
“I have seen people affected by bullying, and it hurts,” said London Weiler, a sophomore at Woods Cross High School. “Every time that I see the opportunity, I do my best to stop it."
The proceedings had one key onlooker: Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake. She helped pass Utah’s current anti-bullying law in 2008 and said more needs to be done to prevent bullying.
“The purpose was to require every school district to have a policy defining bullying, how to report it, what to do in case of retaliation,” she said. It also had a section requiring teachers and school personnel to be trained on the issue and implement programs or initiatives for education and prevention.
The definition of bullying is tricky and varies from state to state. No matter how it’s defined, it’s a fact of life and is far too common in elementary and junior high and high school, said Cameron Dielh, an attorney with the Utah League of Cities and Towns. The problem is even bigger with electronic media.
“Whether it’s a Facebook post, or a photograph on Instagram, whether it’s a nasty text message, that happens every day to youth,” Dielh said. “Whether they’re of a sexual nature, whether it’s just mocking people, whether it’s because of who they are or characteristics they have, it happens all the time.”
Being a victim of bullying can have devastating affects. It can lead to a lack of self-esteem, students may not go to school, or if they do they don’t participate in activities. Sometimes the student feels they have nowhere to go and they end their lives, which is why more districts are looking at suicide prevention as well as how to stop bullying.
Every district does something to prevent bullying, and there are different programs in place, but it can be hard to see which programs are working when schools are not required to report incidents of bullying, Moss said.
“Until we know how many incidents are reported and whether this goes down with bullying prevention programs, how can we do anything more to combat it?” she said.
The penalties for bullying is up to a school district and can range from expulsion to actual criminal charges depending on the severity.
Johnson said bullying will always be an issue, but the way people handle it can change. She said it’s important for students and teachers to get involved to put an end to bullying and those victims of bullying shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.
As for the bullies, she said, “If you feel like you have to degrade others to make yourself feel better, I think you really have to look at who you are and who you are becoming.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company