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Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)
SALT LAKE CITY - Parents would take a larger role in combating bullying in changes to Utah law contemplated under SB161, which was approved Wednesday afternoon by the Senate Education Committee.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, calls on school districts statewide to update their hazing and bullying policies in several ways, including a new requirement that employees, students and parents sign a statement annually acknowledging they understand the policy.
Parents need to play a role in spreading awareness about bullying and taking ownership of the problem, Escamilla said.
"I think parents should be part of the conversation and part of the solution when there is an incident regarding bullying and their children," she said.
Bullying is "one of the most important things we have to address as a community, as a state. This bill is trying to bring some extra tools for the school districts," Escamilla said.
Escamilla said she got involved in the issue after the son of an acquaintance killed himself after he had been repeatedly bullied.
"He had to plan every day how to get back home through different routes so he wouldn't be bullied," she said.
The legislation would remove school bus stops as a location where bullying is prohibited, which stirred discussion among committee members. Some maintained that bullying likely occurs frequently at bus stops.
Escamilla said she does not believe that school districts have sufficient resources to oversee bus stops.
"I can't imagine that is feasible," she said.
Prohibitions against bullying school employees would also be part of district policies, according to the legislation.
"We've seen an increase of bullying from students to teachers and some incidents of administrators, too. We think it's important they also feel protected and safe to be in their working environment," Escamilla said.
The bill would also require uniform reporting of bullying to the Utah State Board of Education. The state board needs information to understand the incidence and scope of bullying in Utah, Escamilla said.
It is important, she said, to know the answer to the question: "How bad is bullying in our state?"
No one from the public addressed the bill, which now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
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