PROVO — A Utah lawmaker wants to create a statewide school safety hotline using the easy-to-remember 311 number.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, is the sponsor of two bills aimed at creating the hotline, which he said would use licensed clinical social workers at the University of Utah’s University Neuropsychiatric Institute Crisis Services.
Thatcher said the organization had offered its services, and he envisioned a centralized nerve center that could deal with suicide prevention, school violence issues and bullying.
“It will allow children to anonymously inform on themselves or anyone else,” Thatcher said.
The idea resonates with Dr. Greg Hudnall, the state crisis team coordinator at Hope4Utah.
“When you come up with a three-digit line for kids in schools, I like that it’s a broad approach for kids that are being bullied, they see another student with a weapon or they’re concerned about a friend who may be suicidal — I think it’s really positive,” Hudnall said.
Hudnall said the three-digit safety hotline concept has worked in other states, including neighboring Colorado.
“While it started out slow, it eventually built up so that it is being used,” Hudnall said.
Thatcher said there would likely be a $0.02 surcharge associated with 311 calls and he said ideally the program would be financially supported by municipalities and school districts so it could eventually be expanded.
There is one significant obstacle. Provo City is currently using the 311 number as a service line to field residents’ questions and provide information.
“We have spent a lot of resources getting this established,” Deputy Mayor Corey Norman said.
Norman said city officials had met with Thatcher and had expressed their objections to giving up the number, though he said city leaders were obviously not opposed to creating a statewide school safety hotline.
“Give us some empirical evidence that this will support your objectives,” Norman asked Thatcher.
Norman said officials would like to see that evidence and would like the city to be compensated in order to rebrand the hotline.
Absent the evidence, Norman questioned why Thatcher would “remove a successful tool” from Provo City. He suggested assuming the 211 number, which is currently operated by the United Way.
“For us, it’s working really, really well,” Norman said.
Thatcher said he was motivated to establish a statewide hotline in part because of a high school friend he lost to suicide.
“I still think about him,” Thatcher said. “I still wonder if there was something I missed or something I could have done. Obviously this is a deeply personal issue to me.