Parents who want to learn more about how to handle bullying, mental health, substance abuse and Internet safety will soon likely get the chance through their school districts.
HB298, the first of a slate of bills aimed at preventing teen suicide and bullying, finished its journey through the full Legislature on Friday, passing the Senate 22-4. It would require districts to offer annual seminars to parents on such topics.
Districts would be allowed to opt out, but would have to notify the state school board and provide reasons. The state school board would be required to create a curriculum for districts to use.
Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, has said he decided to run the bill after student suicides at a school in his area several years ago. He said the father of one of the children who committed suicide asked him to do something to try to help.
"This, I believe, should be one of our top priorities," Eliason said at a hearing earlier this month. "This is not a comprehensive approach. It doesn't solve all the problems, but if it saves one life, it's definitely worth it."
The Senate passed the bill Friday, with just a couple of lawmakers speaking against it, saying schools should focus on academics and the legislature should respect local control.
"I think it is a very well intended piece of legislation, but I'm voting no because I think we're forgetting what the purpose of schools are," said Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem. "We're expecting them to be all things to all people including mental health clinics."
Others, including Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, endorsed the bill. Dabakis warned that districts should think carefully before opting out of the seminars, saying "bullying and many of the problems listed in this bill are problems in every school district."
HB298 now goes to the governor for his signature.
The bill is one of at least four this session meant to stem teen suicide and bullying in Utah. In Utah, two youths are treated for suicide attempts each day, according to a 2011 report by the Utah Department of Health.
Two other bills, HB134 and SB184, would require schools to notify parents of bullying or suicide threats. Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, has said she's been working on SB184 with the family of David Phan, a 14-year-old who shot himself on a pedestrian bridge leading to the campus of his school, Bennion Junior High, on Nov. 29.
SB184 has passed through a Senate committee and is awaiting a hearing on the Senate floor, while HB134 stalled in committee Thursday, despite emotional testimony from two Copperton parents who lost a 13-year-old son to suicide last month.
Eliason has also introduced a second bill, HB154, that would, among other things, require school districts and charter schools to hold youth suicide prevention programs for junior high and high school students.
Learn more about suicide prevention
To find out about suicide prevention, visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number 1-800-273-TALK.