These components were not in place in our schools when my 13-year-old daughter Lily committed suicide. They are the result of many hours of dialogue with educators, administrators, mental and public health workers, as well as many other families and students who experienced the detrimental effects of bullying in our schools.
If the desire to reduce bullying and adolescent suicide is real and genuine, these things must be included and leadership held accountable for implementation and enforcement.
Surveys: How do you know what students are experiencing if you do not ask?We must ask them instead of making assumptions about the environment they face at school.
These can be simple surveys, but to truly have a thorough analysis, higher quality surveying and analysis software is necessary. Our community is doing this through a partnership with the Utah State University-Moab campus social work department. Surveys can and should be anonymous.
Policies: Must have a clear discipline matrix, followed with consistency in implementation to eliminate favoritism or discrimination. This must include language like “kill yourself” as unacceptable and strong consequences given.
Policies must recognize and protect the rights and safety of all students including LGBTQIA youth and other marginalized students.
The policies should include a process of restorative justice as part of the response to bullying and violence.
Policies must include a tracking system for all reports of bullying, including those which are “unproven.” This is critical to an effective bullying policy because it allows tracking over time, thus enabling schools to address repeated reports in an effective way.
School-based therapists: These MUST be in all schools.
Bullying is violence and is a mental health issue for the bully, the victim and any witnesses. Funding for a trained therapist in each school is a must to reducing bullying and suicide as well as ensuring that Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer/Intersex/Asexual (LGBTQIA) students (and all who are marginalized) have a safe place to talk about what they are experiencing. This is different from a guidance counselor because their training and experience are different.
Training: This must be provided and participated in on an annual basis and must include all staff, teachers, secretaries, para-educators, TAs, custodians, lunch persons, bus drivers, administrators, school board members … everyone. High quality and effective trainings around these issues are critical. Online trainings are not adequate and fail to offer the depth and focus on specific issues in each school which are needed to truly have an impact.
Bullying/Violence: How to identify it, who is at risk, places it happens, how to prevent it. Bullying, suicide awareness and LGBTQIA (marginalized youth) awareness must be intertwined because they are clearly connected.
LGBTQIA Awareness: All staff must understand the radically higher risks faced by this population and be committed to protecting them.
Marginalized youth and trauma trainings. Teachers need to understand what this looks like in the classroom and how to protect and help these students. No human can effectively learn when they are struggling under intense stress and trauma on a daily basis.
Reporting: What/when to report, the process and importance of documentation, procedures for follow through, and communication with parents.
Accountability: When the process is failing — where do students, parents, teachers, staff take their concerns? No one will report if they feel that their issues or concerns are not addressed. Many feel voiceless and need to feel that the schools are taking their concerns and experiences seriously.
Accountability: There must be a process and procedure to hold administrators accountable. As leaders, they are responsible to ensure that they and their staff are following the policies and reporting procedures as well as enforcing consequences and responses to bullying.
States must prioritize funding to hold school districts accountable for their policies, reporting, training and accountability measures. Without this additional accountability, school districts may not adequately implement the policies and practices necessary to reduce adolescent suicide and bullying. State School Boards must be empowered and funded to capably enforce policy and effective practices.
Visibility: Safety and support must be ensured for teachers who identify as LGBTQIA to be open and out. Too many teachers in the state feel they will be discriminated against for coming out and likely lose their jobs. Policies should clearly be written to protect and support these teachers.
All teachers must be supported through policy and practice in creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA youth.
This applies to all marginalized youth, but the LGBTQIA youth population is severely at risk in Utah and “safe zone” signs are a visible message that they are valued, loved and that their safety is important.