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Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signs anti-bullying legislation

CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval on Wednesday sat in a school gymnasium Wednesday with lawmakers, middle school students and families of victimized children to sign legislation to combat bullying.

“We have to stop bullying. We have to,” Sandoval told students at Carson City Middle School in an emotional speech moments before he signed Senate Bill 504 into law.

“None of you should ever have to dread going to school. None of you should have to dread what’s going to come up on this device,” he said, holding up a cell phone.

SB504 is one of the Republican governor’s signature legislative priorities this session. It creates the Office of Safe and Respectful Learning within the Nevada Department of Education.

It also sets up a 24-hour hotline to report incidents of bullying and imposes strict requirements on school officials to report and investigate bullying. The law requires same-day notification when a bullying incident is reported, investigations within 48 hours, and imposes consequences when parents are not notified.

Legislative money committees have approved nearly $16 million for schools to contract with social workers to address the problem. Administration officials say the program will be in 140 schools in the first year and 280 in the second year. Sandoval initially requested $36 million.

Attending Wednesday’s ceremonies were families who openly shared their grief and heart-wrenching experiences while testifying in support of the bill.

Jason Lamberth testified before legislative committees how his 13-year-old daughter, Hailee, a Clark County School District student, was pushed to suicide after being bullied in school. He said the family was never told of the harassment she suffered until they read her suicide note.

On Wednesday, purple rubber bracelets imprinted with Hailee’s name and “stop bullying” were handed out at the ceremony. Purple was Hailee’s favorite color.

Also present were Mary Bryan and Aimee Hairr, whose sons were bullied. They claim in a lawsuit filed against school district officials that their sons were shoved and called homophobic names. One was stabbed in the groin with a pencil, which required medical attention; the other contemplated suicide.

Sandoval sympathized with the young audience sitting in the bleachers and challenged them to look after each other.

“It’s not easy being a student today,” he said.

Dale Erquiaga, superintendent of public instruction, said bullying is not new. He recalled being bullied as a chubby, prissy kid while growing up in Fallon.

Thinking about it, Erquiaga conceded he also picked on others.

But today bullying follows you home. It’s on social media, text messages, cell phones. And unrelenting emotional harassment can be demoralizing and deadly.

Sandoval said there were more than 4,000 incidents of bullying in Nevada schools last year. “I know that is just a fraction,” he said.

“Every single one of you deserves the opportunity to grow and learn without the fear of being picked on,” Sandoval said.

“No students should be in pain,” he said “All students should have the opportunity to thrive and succeed.”

Sandoval challenged students to “embrace your differences.”

“Help each other,” he said.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb

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