Beaufort County's legislators approved the creation of an anti-bullying task force Monday, about six weeks after a Robert Smalls Middle School sixth-grader's suicide.
Parents and friends of 12-year-old Celeste Wills say bullying played a role in her death April 30.
"We would like to start an anti-bullying task force; someone needs to do something about it, and that is us," Clarissa Wills, Celeste Wills' mother, said Monday during a meeting of the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation. "We are speaking on behalf of other parents in the Beaufort County School District so that we can save other children."
Proposed by state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, the task force will have more than 20 members. Local members will include school officials, law enforcement officers, parents and town representatives. Representatives of various state agencies, such as education, mental health, child services and the Attorney General's Office, will make presentations to the task force.
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"To have all of these different stakeholders in one room, I don't know if we've had that possibility to do that before," Erickson said. "I think it is so important right now to have these conversations at this juncture, after something that could have been related to bullying and possibly culminated in suicide."
The task force will conduct research and gather public comments. Erickson said she plans to hold six meetings before the end of the year.
The task force will first examine state law and policies, and it will recommend ways to fill gaps without duplicating services, Erickson said. That could include suggestions for new laws or ways to amend the current ones.
Its work will be presented to the delegation and to appropriate local groups, Erickson said.
"After watching over the years, this issue of bullying hasn't gone away, and I wouldn't even say it has subsided," she said. "If anything, I would even say it has grown, so I just want to make sure we are hitting the right buttons."
As to Wills' death, and what role, if any, bullying played in it, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office says its investigation continues. Sgt. Robin McIntosh said Monday the agency is awaiting the results of a forensic analysis of Wills' electronic devices.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Investigators of 12-year-old's suicide await test results from electronics, June 6, 2014
- Parents of deceased student petition Beaufort County schools to stop bullying, May 16, 2014
- School district continues battle against bullying, says it needs help, May 11, 2014
- Family vows to be voice of change in wake of daughter's suicide, May 6, 2014
- Death of Robert Smalls 6th-grader Wills ruled suicide, May 2, 2014