A bill that would provide Utah students with the resources to report bullying and suicidal thoughts was unanimously passed out of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday with a favorable recommendation.
SB 175 – School Safety and Crisis Line, which is sponsored by Senator Daniel Thatcher (Republican – West Valley City), would give students the opportunity to use a smartphone app to anonymously report bullying and get help if they experience thoughts of suicide. Reports of bullying would be immediately communicated to the school resource officer and if students report experiencing suicidal thoughts, the app would automatically connect them to a licensed social worker at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute.
Thatcher says it is becoming difficult to know anyone in Utah who hasn’t been affected in some way by bullying, suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, or sexual assault.
“The one thing that all of these issues have in common is the difficultly in connecting the children that have the greatest need – and the least access to resources and the least sophistication in knowing how to get help – and connecting them with services,” said Thatcher.
SB 175 would, in effect, continue a pilot program that the Legislature approved last year for a phone line that students could call to report similar issues. Thatcher believes that an app would be more successful than a phone line due to the fact that 90 percent of Utah students use smartphones.
“It is absolutely one of the most important things we can provide for our children,” Thatcher told the committee.
The bill calls for a one-time allocation of $150,000 to help pay for technology so social workers can communicate with students via text message. Also proposed is an ongoing allocation of $148,400. The funds would be used to hire two more social workers so there will someone available at all times to assist students.
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) questioned whether the money would be better spent on training teachers to be better aware of student safety issues.
“What we need to do is we need to is provide a resource for students. Right now, I’m significantly less concerned about a teacher than I am concerned about that student,” said Thatcher.
For Laura Warburton, this is a very personal issue. Last year, she lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide. Warburton believes SB 175 is a good measure that will help students. “This is just one piece and I think it’s a valuable piece. We definitely, and if you’ll excuse the terminology, need to take a shotgun approach where we’re just hitting far and wide.”