Magna • A string of suicides at Cyprus High in recent years has taken a toll on students and the community, senior Jane Burns told Utah's governor Friday.
"Events like this greatly affect Cyprus High School and the Magna community," Burns tearfully told Gov. Gary Herbert. Burns, senior class secretary, called the death of one of her friends earlier this school year "the worst day of my life."
Burns was one of a couple of dozen students who spoke to Herbert on Friday about teen suicide, offering suggestions about how to deal with the issue. Herbert, along with lawmakers and the parents of several students who killed themselves in recent years, visited Cyprus to discuss solutions and ceremonially sign a handful of bills, including three aimed at helping to prevent teen bullying and suicide.
HB134 would require schools to notify parents if their children are bullied or threaten suicide; HB298 would ask school districts to hold annual seminars for parents on bullying, mental health, substance abuse and Internet safety; and HB154 would require school districts and charter schools to implement youth suicide prevention programs for junior high and high school students, among other things.
Lawmakers passed the bills this last legislative session after several high profile teen suicides in Utah, including that of David Phan, 14, who shot himself in front of peers on a pedestrian bridge leading to the campus of his school, Bennion Junior High, on Nov. 29.
David Phan's family members were among those at Cyprus Friday. They referred questions to their lawyer and spokesman James Ord, who also attended. He said the Phans were pleased to see the Legislature act so quickly.
"This has been going on for a long time, and it wasn't as public," Ord said of teen suicides in Utah, "and when we had a few very public cases happen we were very happy that the legislature saw that and moved to legislate on behalf of that."
He did say, however, there's more work to be done, especially when it comes to helping lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. He said now some school administrators are afraid to address the issue. David Phan was gay and may have felt bullied at school, his family has said.
"The family really would like to see more in the direction of allowing LGBT people to feel safe in their schools," Ord said. "We want to create a more inclusive environment where school administrators feel like it's OK to talk about these issues."
At one point, Herbert asked students to raise their hands if they or someone they knew had attempted or thought about attempting suicide. Almost all of the teens lifted their arms.
"It's alarming," Herbert said. "It's scary, the fact that 95 percent of you raised your hands. We need to do something better than what we're doing today."
Herbert urged the teens to offer friendly smiles to others and to be inclusive.
"There's a lot of things that can divide us if we let them," Herbert said. "We have differences whether they be religious differences ... sexual orientation, our gender differences ... scholastic achievement, ethnicity, it goes on and on. If you want to find some reason to be contrary there's plenty of them out there. The challenge that's been given to us is to see if we can overcome them."