SALT LAKE CITY — Schools would be required to notify parents if a student expresses a suicide threat or is involved in an incident of bullying or harassment if a bill advanced Tuesday by a Senate committee becomes law.
SB184, sponsored by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, would require parents to be notified of alleged incidents of bullying, cyber-bullying, hazing, harassment or retaliation involving their child, or if the school has reason to believe the student is experiencing suicidal thoughts.
The bill also would require schools to obtain a signed statement from parents acknowledging they were made aware of the concerns regarding their child.
"Youth suicide and bullying is a state problem," Robles said. "This is an epidemic that is impacting many of our children in the state of Utah."
Robles said the motivation behind the bill was a desire to create an atmosphere of shared responsibility between parents and schools. She said she spoke with several families who recently lost a child to suicide, some of whom expressed a concern that they were not made adequately aware by schools of incidents of bullying and harassment that may have contributed to a student's death.
"For them not to know, that is heartbreaking," Robles said.
Current state law requires schools to inform parents when bullying occurs or when school counselors wish to work with a student. Robles' bill would broaden the language of state statute, clarifying the types of incidents that would require parental attention, and would add the requirement for a statement of acknowledgment in an attempt to ensure that families are given and understand the information necessary to provide help to children.
Greg Hudnall, associate superintendent of Provo School District and a suicide prevention advocate, said most school districts already have a practice of informing parents when a student is bullied or expresses a desire to take their own life. But he agreed that youth suicide in Utah — currently the second leading cause of death for teenagers in the state — is a significant problem that needs to be addressed.
"Anything that we can do to prevent suicide, I'm for," Hudnall said. "I'm sure that we will never do enough."
The bill was advanced unanimously by the Senate Education Committee with very little discussion. Following the vote, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, remarked on the ease of the bill's passage.
"That's the first time I've ever heard someone say, 'This is a simple bill,' and it was a simple bill," he said.
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