HUNTINGTON- Students in school systems across the country face enormous challenges that go well beyond the stress of doing well in their academic classes. It is because of these challenges and their impact on the lives of our youth, that the Utah Legislature passed the “Parent Seminar on Youth Protection” bill in 2013.
The Emery School District will be holding the local Youth Protection Seminar on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 6 pm in the Emery High School Spartan Center Little Theater. Parents and students, as well as interested stakeholders, are invited to attend.
The legislation, HB 289, “requires school districts to offer an annual seminar to parents with information on substance abuse, bullying, mental health, and internet safety.” Specific methods of presentation and delivery are left up to each district, and there is a provision in the law that allows districts to opt-out if a district deems there is no need for such training or because of a general lack of support from the public.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason from District 45, recently said that in the three years that the law has been active, no school district has opted out. However, Emery District Superintendent Larry W. Davis said, “While we have held these seminars as required by law, they have been poorly attended and typically have resulted in more presenters than people in the audience.”
The superintendent said that the lack of participation in previous years has not led to a decision to discontinue the seminar, but rather it has resulted in enhanced efforts by district administrators to do a better job of publicizing the program and emphasizing its importance. “We have seen a serious upswing in student mental issues in recent years,” Superintendent Davis said. “Kids are feeling stressed out for many reasons, including socio-economic challenges in our county. There has been a noticeable increase in depression, anxiety disorder, eating disorders, cutting, and extreme apathy. It is a good idea to bring people together to discuss these issues.”
Of greatest concern, however, is the increase in the number of students who are having suicidal thoughts, even to the point of generating plans to commit suicide and, in some cases, attempting to carry out such plans. The superintendent believes there is an interrelationship between various mental challenges kids deal with and thoughts about suicide. “We need to address each component of this demon in order to tame the beast,” he said.
While the topics to be discussed in the seminar are general, the actual breakdown will be much more specific. For example, regarding substance abuse, specific information about the new synthetic opioid known as “Pinky” will be presented. Superintendent Ember Conley of the Park City School District recently discussed the deadly impact that “Pinky” has had in her school district which resulted in two overdose deaths, one attempted suicide, and several students hospitalized with mental disorders. “This could have been any of our children,” she said. “There were no red flags.” She pointed out that while she has also seen a surge in student mental illness, kids are also turning to substance abuse as a coping resource.
In addition to presentations on mental health and drug abuse, the seminar will include information about bullying and hazing, behaviors that often lead to mental disorders and drug abuse for the victims. It is expected that district administrators and counselors will join local intervention agencies from law enforcement, public health, and mental health as presenters and facilitators at the seminar.
“If we care about our kids, their education, and their quality of life in the future, attending this seminar will certainly help to that end,” Superintendent Davis said. “We should all be willing to commit to a couple of hours of community involvement, knowing that there are healthy lifestyles at stake. We are all part of the challenges our children and grandchildren face, and we should also invest in being part of the solutions to these challenges.”
Presentations are expected to last about 15 minutes each with time for questions and comments from the audience. Refreshments will also be provided.