State Advocacy - ​​​​​
Mandating Change to Ensure Accountability


Sadly, many state-level changes are often reactive instead of preventative. The increasing rate of adolescent suicide is occurring across the nation. Some places are markedly worse than others, such as UTah which is 140% up over the past four years!!! This shocking and quite terrifying rise reflects a HUGE need for efforts to shift this. State level change must happen to ensure accountability and safety for ALL youth.

Two areas of importance for state-level work:


State Legislature -- creates/mandates changes to the law

Steps for advocacy with State School Boards are listed below the letters

State School Boards/State Office of Education 
 -- implements the law  and mandates/governs the school district processes for following the law




State School Boards or State Office of Education:

These are the people designated with the responsibility to ensure that school districts in a given state are following state laws. Each school district in the state is accountable to them. Often they are the group who interprets the law, creates policy and decides specifically how they will/can be implemented in schools.

If any given state does not allocate or prioritize funding for a department which gathers data, analyzes training quality, and ensures that schools are implementing practices which ensure all students are kept safe -  this is likely a case of voluntary compliance as is the case in Utah.

Without funding for an oversight department/position - schools will not truly have accountability. Thus as is to often the case, many will continue to sweep issues under the rug, such as bullying, suicide, mental health and the risks faced by LGBTQIA youth.





Here is a copy of my final letter to the UTAH State Board of Education: 

When I wrote a letter and received no response it accentuated my feeling of voicelessness. This feeling of having no voice is one shared by many people, especially those in the LGBTQIA community. My daughter's artwork expressed this feeling vividly in the months before her suicide. The images of beautiful dogs or wolves with their mouths bound demonstrates this feeling so vividly. 
A year later and after talking with some board members I wrote the following letter. By sharing it, I hope to offer a template for others to work to give voice to the voiceless. After sending the letter I was contacted by a few members of the Board and was invited to participate in a panel discussion session. The meeting and my conversations with Board members afterward gave me hope that they are going to take this issue seriously and will be taking steps to implement at least some of the Necessary Components. However, for change to truly happen and be effective, State and Local School Boards need continued pressure to focus on this issue and implement real action. This process requires persistence. 


  
Dear Members and Leadership of the Utah State Board of Education,                   July 9, 2018

                Although I have reached out to you before, I am trying again because I care about the children living here and know how badly they need help. My daughter Lily McClish committed suicide Jan. 26, 2017. She was 13 years old, the student of the month for her tolerance, a lesbian and an incredibly kind human being. Although I lost everything when I lost her, I feel compelled to share my insight with you.  I was teaching in the school district when Lily took her life and feel it gives me a unique perspective on critical areas which if addressed by the schools, would help so many children who are suffering and feel hopeless…hopeless enough to take their own lives.
                Each of you is in a very important position to make decisions which can address our frightening adolescent suicide rate in Utah. I hope you will take the time to read the attached Six Necessary Components and consider incorporating these into policy considerations and in accountability measures.
                I would gladly welcome the opportunity to discuss any or all of these with you in a meeting or workshop or as individuals. I am currently living out of cell service focusing on trying to heal and find a way to survive this loss. If you respond or reach out to me, please understand if my communication is delayed. The fastest way to reach me is via text message, which I am able to check once a day.
                Additionally, I want to inform you I will be sharing this letter with the media and State leadership. This is because I feel it is important to give this information to parents and citizens who care about this critical issue, so that they may support you in changing this situation.
                Finally, as my daughter expressed through her art before she took her life, I too have come to feel voiceless in Utah. This has led me to the decision to leave at the end of October. The slow pace of change is too painful for me because I know what is at risk. All of our children are our treasures – the only ‘wealth’ that matters – regardless of their identity.  If you are going to help them, you must look into your hearts and find the LOVE necessary to accept them, make them safe and create an environment in our schools which gives them hope.
 
Sincerely,
Molly McClish

Sent with the attachment of the Necessary Components from this website



STEPS FOR CREATING CHANGE ON THE STATE LEVEL:



Step 1:

Look up what your state requires for each school district at:  


Learn what the statistics are for bullying, adolescent suicide and additional risks faced by LGBTQIA youth at your state health department.



Step 2:

Go to your school district website. Look for the following:

 - Surveys and results
 - posted policies on safety
 - Policies on discrimination and LGBTQIA youth
 - Copy of the discipline matrix
 - bullying, cyberbullying and hazing
- training required of staff and frequency-- note often these are online, poor quality or simply not specific to the unique issues in any given area -- ask for information on the training available to staff in your district.


**NOTE: If you can’t find these, call your district and ask where they can be found**


Call your district and ask about accountability practices, information gathering, and path of recourse for any parent, student or staff member feeling procedures are not being followed, or if schools are sweeping things under the rug. ACCESSIBILITY is important if a district wants to truly know what is happening and be in touch with the general climate/culture in schools.



Step 3:

Once you understand the policies and laws of your state, as well as how these are implemented in your district, you can determine if they contain the Necessary Components. If they do not, contact your state school board members to ask that they implement them as part of state requirements.

Ask your state school board members what accountability practices they follow. Is it voluntary compliance? If so, present the dangers -- most common:

 - Sweeping it under the rug - simply avoiding talking about the connection between bullying, suicide and being LGBTQIA


 - No training on these issues - or poor, quick, low engagement training

 - Not enough training in these critical areas 
 - No policies mandated which protect ALL students

 - No Anonymous surveying of students and staff which include questions about gender and sexual identity and orientation and safety. 

 - Reporting and communication problems:  are all reports documented over time? Who is gathering and analyzing reports? What do they do when schools don't report bullying??

 - No accountability or consequences for schools who are not protecting all youth

Step 4:

 - Form or join a coalition focused on safety for all students to empower your plea
 - Ask if you can bring speakers and information to the state school board
 - Educate them on why it is critical to include the Necessary Components 
 - Be public about your efforts and the response -- give them positive press when they          are listening and doing something about the problem
 - Draw attention and make people aware so they can get involved - if the press is not supportive, utilize the power of social media to get the word out! Don't give up if the general Media choose to ignore the problem. Often they are operating from Bias due to pressure from ownership or from sponsors or companies advertising with them. 


Step 5:

Don’t give up! Our schools need to address the growing crisis of adolescent suicide, bullying and the LGBTQIA connection. They are very clearly connected and that cannot be ignored or denied any longer. This is about safety and health for ALL students!!

I loved my daughter as all parents do - with all of my being!! Our children are our greatest wealth! Sadly more parents will continue to lose their children - at a rate which is rapidly increasing - until this is addressed.




CHANGE within the State Legislature:


Any State that has a predominant religion Often has a higher rate of adolescent suicide and are often less willing to address the issues faced by LGBTQIA youth. This is because the discrimination rooted in their religion (regardless of words to the contrary) which results in institutionalized discrimination as we have in Utah, and which exists in many other states such as Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and others.  This does not mean they are evil or their faith is evil, however, it does mean that engaging them in a discussion about protecting all youth may be harder. Keep at it! Don't give up! Something that all religions share is the belief in God's love and God's love is NOT conditional. Remind them to look into their hearts and find the love necessary to protect ALL children - all parents love their children and deserve their protection. 


To change the law, you will need a group of parents who have either lost children to suicide, had a child suffer because of bullying/violence and how it was handled, or had a child who suffered discrimination (for anything - including being LGBTQIA). This can and should be a collective voice. Creating coalitions of parents, youth and any community members who care, can have an impact. 

Unfortunately, the law is slow to respond and often hindered by the prevailing culture in any given area. More on this as I learn and navigate through the process myself. I will also be blogging and offering podcasts around this issue.




The Following is the letter I sent to the Governor and Lt. Governor of Utah, hoping they would make greater effort to address this issue. following that letter is the letter I sent to a Representative who has the reputation about caring most about suicide and bullying in our state but who stopped communicating after I informed him my daughter was a lesbian. I included the letter to the state school board to the governor and Lt. Gov and to all, I included the Necessary Components for Change.



Dear Governor Herbert and Lieutenant Governor Cox,                                                                               Aug. 2, 2018
                I write to you with the hopes that you will take a few moments to hear my story, that of my 13 year old daughter who committed suicide and my thoughts on action necessary if we are to reduce the rate of adolescent suicide in Utah. I was glad to hear of the task force to address the alarming rate of suicide, especially adolescent suicide in our state. My heart was deeply glad when I heard that you were focusing on groups at greatest risk, including LGBTQIA adults and youth. Sadly, I feel that these attempts often result in new language, new words or promises that end up being only that - nice words but no real action or implementation. My deepest wish is that this is not what comes of the efforts of the task force. Utah needs real and in depth change to address the rampant suffering experienced by so many of its citizens.
                The past year and a half have been simply utter devastation for me – complete annihilation. Throughout this process of trying to survive this unbearable pain, I have worked to create change within my local school district, my community, and on the state level. While needed changes have happened to some degree locally, I feel that change must happen at the state level for it to be real and have the desired outcome. I am sharing with you the second letter I sent to the State Board of Education. For effective change to happen, I feel that it must be implemented and mandated at that level. Furthers protective laws need to be passed and most importantly enforced within the legislature as well. I hope that you will support and work for this change.
                As I stated in the letter, I feel as my daughter did – voiceless. This is because our state has a serious problem with institutionalized discrimination. Words are one thing, but what is actually happening in schools (as well as within the general culture of Utah) is completely different. Each school and each teacher has an ethical and moral duty to protect and keep ALL students safe – regardless of any identification of sexual orientation, gender identity, race or creed.
                I sincerely hope that you will help the people of Utah find the love needed to create an environment (in our schools and throughout our state) that gives ALL students, including those who identify as LGBTQIA, hope and a sense that they are valued. The hopeless environment currently faced by these students who are most at risk is a direct reason that our adolescent suicide rate is so high. I witnessed this environment and what is happening or lacking as a teacher in my district for three years.  I do not want ANY mother, any family or any child, to experience this horror. It is my belief that you can directly help change this. Although the most recent bill passed on bullying/cyber-bullying and hazing was an improvement, it is not enough. Critical elements are missing and there is no one holding schools or the State Board of Education accountable for implementation of these policies. Remember that those who are suffering because of this situation often do not feel empowered to speak out.
                Although my experience with trying to create needed change in this state has left me hopeless and led to my decision to leave, I truly care about the many children who are suffering and I know what is at risk. I feel that my daughter was swallowed by hate, meanness, cruelty and deep-seated cultural discrimination. I also feel that you can and MUST do something about it. I hope you will find the love in your heart that is necessary to change this frightening situation.
Best Regards,
Molly
Molly McClish
435.260.2322/[email protected]  



The following is the letter I wrote to a State Legislator whom I had been told was the one who cared the most about adolescent suicide and bullying in the schools. He was a co sponsor of legislation adopted regarding bullying, cyberbullying and hazing in the schools. I wrote seeking closure because he had been responsive but that seemed to end when I informed him that my daughter was a lesbian, that the laws needed to do more to protect this population and that there had to be more funding to address this issue in the schools to address the shocking rate of adolescent  suicide in Utah. 

    
Dear Representative Eliason,                                                                                               Aug. 2, 2018
                I contacted you last year regarding the circumstances around my 13 year old daughter’s suicide. Many people had told me that you were a representative who cared the most about suicide prevention. Yet sadly I felt you stopped communicating with me after I shared that my daughter was a lesbian. While I tried, I could not find any other reason that you ceased correspondence with me.
                My reason for reaching out is to let you know that. I have come to feel as voiceless as my daughter’s artwork expressed before she chose to end her life. This is in part because you stopped communicating with me after I shared her sexual orientation. Sadly, having been a teacher in our school district for the previous three years, I had information I think you need to hear regarding the dire situation in MOST Utah schools. I had reviewed in depth the most recent legislation which you had helped craft with Representative Escamilla on bullying, cyber-bullying and hazing. While there were positive improvements from the previous laws around these issues, there were key components missing. If you truly do care about protecting ALL students you must find it in your heart to care about those most at risk in this country and especially in this state – those who identify as LGBTQIA.
                It is my hope that possibly you just got busy, or possibly your computer crashed and you lost the emails we were exchanging. Even through this unbearable pain, I continue to try to see the best in people – hoping that the world can become a place where beautiful, kind, caring and wonderful children such as my daughter and so many others like her, will feel hope where there is now only hopelessness.
                If you decide to hear my insights on HB 161 as someone who has taught in the school system of Utah, as well as a mother who has lost her greatest wealth as a result of this system, please contact me.
I am attaching the components necessary for effective change to our shocking and frightening adolescent suicide rate. I have sent these to the State Board of Education, to the Governor and the Lt. Governor. For real and effective change to happen these MUST be mandated on the state level. I hope you will look into your heart and find there the love needed to truly address this hopeless situation. There are too many lives at risk. Please do what you can to protect them.
 
Sincerely,
Molly
Molly McClish
435.260.2322/