SALT LAKE CITY — Possibly 30 percent of Utah school districts and charter schools do not have policies on bullying and hazing, state officials told members of the Utah State Board of Education.
State officials, in the process of updating the state's policies, asked school districts and charter schools to submit to the state board copies of their respective policies.
"Only about 50 percent had submitted their policies and many of them said they did not have policies. For people to assume that the charters and districts have policies — unless we go out and actually ask them for it and verify it — they don’t even know they have the requirement to do it until we ask them to do it," said Angela Stallings, deputy state superintendent, addressing the state board's law and licensing committee Thursday night.
As the state has further worked with school districts and charter schools, the number complying with the request has climbed to about 70 percent, said Lillian Tsosie-Jensen, who oversees student advocacy services for the state.
"The speculation would be, is that they don’t have something in place or they’re currently working on it," she said.
State law requires school districts and charter schools to implement bullying, cyberbullying, hazing and harassment policies. It further requires "regular and meaningful training" of school employees and students.
Stallings said bullying has become a growing concern and it may become necessary "to impose a penalty on (schools) until they get a policy in place. We’ve been talking whether or not we would withhold funds until they get those policies in place. I’m not trying to be extremely harsh, but the hard part is, this has become a big concern, bullying, hazing, all these issues.
"There’s been a real desire to make the districts and the charters understand they do need to have these policies and start to comply."
According to national data provided to the state school board, 15.7 percent of public schools report bullying occurs at least once a week in their respective schools.
In Utah, bullying was the No. 1 tip reported by students using the SafeUT app between September and December 2016.
The SafeUT cellphone app gives youths confidential and anonymous two-way communication with crisis counselors at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute. The app is also used to submit tips to school staff if a student is aware of a threat or a person who needs help.
The other challenge is reporting. Some school districts report every incident and others elect not to disclose lesser events handled at the local level, officials said.
"I’m more inclined to live with some inconsistency, give them some definitions, but not have a heavy stick approach," said board member Carol Lear.
Tsosie-Jensen said a good starting point is for school districts and charter schools to develop policies and post them on their websites. When parents call her office, it's a good starting point for the conversation. If there's no policy in place, parents feel less support.
"It’s so helpful to have those guidelines," Tsosie-Jensen said.