In 2015, 13-year-old Jacobe Taras died by suicide – a death that came after Jacobe was bullied in schools. His parents, Christine and Richard Taras, are urging state lawmakers to take action.
"Where is it going to stop?" Christine Taras said Wednesday at a news conference in Albany. "Where are we going to say enough is enough?"
New York lawmakers are calling for a measure to address bullying in schools, a problem that experts worry has only gotten worse in recent years with the spread of social media.
Anti-bullying advocates and some lawmakers are calling for a measure that would require schools notify parents or guardians when a child is being bullied in school. But there are concerns over the legislation that it could lead to unsafe outcomes for some students back at home, especially for LGBTQ kids.
The legislation is not expected to be given final approval in the coming weeks in the state Legislature.
"We must evolve, we must take action now," said Richard Taras. "This is the next important stepping stone to protecting our children and their future."
The measure has drawn support from Republicans and Democrats alike in the Legislature – including Republican state Sen. Jim Tedisco.
"Young people are embarrassed when they’re bullied," Tedisco said. 'They don’t want to go home and tell their parents when they’re bullied and that can turn into a tragedy."
For Tedisco, a former teacher himself, the bill has the potential to save lives.
"I can tell you," he said. "They believe and I believe if they were notified he would be alive today."
But despite the emotional appeals, some lawmakers remain opposed. Democratic Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell in a statement said he remains concerned the measure would inadvertently lead to poor outcomes for vulnerable students. LGBTQ kids, in particular, could be outted without their consent or against their own terms.
O'Donnell pointed to legislation he's backing meant to address mental health and suicide.
"I strongly believe that our emphasis should be on offering comprehensive support and resources to all students, rather than merely obligating school administrators to inform parents in instances of bullying or harassment," O'Donnell said. "Jacob's Law, though well-intentioned, assumes that all children come from loving and supportive homes. We must tackle the issue of cultivating a safe and inclusive environment for every student, including those who might be hesitant to disclose their more personal identities to their parents. As the sponsor of the Student Suicide Prevention Act, I believe it is important to devise a program that confronts suicide prevention in schools from all angles. It's what New York students truly deserve when addressing youth mental health issues."
Still, supporters of the bill contend safeguards have been added to ensure kids discuss the issue with school officials first. Democratic state Sen. Robert Jackson said the measure would keep young people safer in school.
"It takes a compassionate village and that means school leadership, social workers, counselors and parents working together to make sure our kids are healthy in school," he said.