Two Utah teenagers took their lives in the past week, punctuating the need for a new law allowing school employees to ask questions of students they think may be suicidal, a lawmaker said Tuesday.
The House Education Committee agreed, voting 13-1 to recommend HB23, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy.
Eliason said a 15-year-old boy took his life in Utah County on Thursday and a charter school student in Draper died on Monday. Utah has the fifth highest suicide rate among young people, he said.
The bill would let teachers, resource officers and others ask a student questions about the student’s suicidal thoughts, self-harming behavior, or thoughts of harming others.
Teachers still would be required to contact the student’s parents or guardians.
HB23 also would allow schools to talk with other students in the wake of such a death — what’s called postvention — something many schools now do not feel free to do.
“We need to do this to save children’s lives,” Eliason told the committee.
Greg Hudnall, executive director of the non-profit Hope4Utah, described the Provo School District’s success preventing suicides by having schools intervene with troubled students.
The district, where he was associate superintendent until last spring, has not had a single suicide among the 14,000 students it has educated in the past eight years, he said.
Eighty students have been hospitalized and hundreds of others treated for depression and other mental health issues, Hudnall said.
“Those districts to the north and south have continued to have suicides,” he said.
The Utah State Board of Education endorsed the bill, which now moves to the House.