On Sept. 29, 1998, six days after his 13th birthday, Jared Benjamin High took his life.
“After 16 years, I have healed up, but I am very proud of my scars,” said his mother, Brenda High.
On Monday afternoon, she was in Gov. Butch Otter’s office to watch the signing of a bill designed to curb bullying and cyberbullying in Idaho schools. With House Bill 246, she said, Idaho finally has a “A-plus law” to protect teenagers.
Lawmakers, parents and students crowded into Otter’s office to celebrate the signing of HB 246. And nearly every speaker picked up on a common theme: The new law is overdue.
One of the bill’s lead sponsors, Boise Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel, cited a series of sobering statistics. Idaho’s school suicide rate is 49 percent above the national average. According to State Department of Education figures, one in 10 students have either switched schools or dropped out due to bullying; one of seven students has seriously considered suicide and one in 14 students has attempted to take his or her own life.
HB 246 builds on the state’s existing law — which makes harassment, intimidation and bullying an infraction — adding an element of prevention and training. Districts and charter schools “shall provide ongoing professional development” to help staff identify bullying and intervene on victims’ behalf. Districts are also required to write their own anti-bullying policies, and students who commit acts of bullying may be subject to suspension or expulsion.
Some districts already have strong anti-bullying policies in place, Rubel said. But she hopes, by the time the 2016 Legislature reconvenes, the new law will result in more aggressive anti-bullying policies, and more consistent training for frontline school staff.
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Some supporters have described HB 246 as a first step to combat school harassment — and new threats posed by cyberbullying. But that did little to quell the enthusiasm during Monday’s bill signing.
“There’s a new sheriff in town,” said Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise.
Said Otter, “This is something that we’ve needed for quite some time, and now we have the tools.”
To see how your lawmaker voted on HB 246, and other education issues, check our Vote Tracker.