Tip line lets students, staff report possible school threats
Pennsylvania becomes first state to mandate that all schools activate Safe2Say Someth
By Chris English and Marion Callahan
Educators agree schools need to be a safer place to learn. In January, Pennsylvania added another tool to help safeguard students.
Pennsylvania became the first state to mandate that all schools — public and private — activate the Safe2Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, a tipline developed by Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit founded by several parents whose children who were killed in the 2012 school shooting. Safe2Say is part of Act 44, a multi-faceted school security and safety law passed by state legislators last spring after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Over the next few weeks, schools will train staff and students on how to report potential threats of violence, self-harm and other problems through an anonymous app, website, or 24/7 crisis hotline.
While districts embrace a measure to identify threats, some area educators worry that the state mandate doesn't provide the needed follow-up support that an influx of anonymous tips might require.
“It has the potential to be an important support system to identity mental health and safety issues that need to come forward and be known," said Quakertown Community Superintendent William Harner. “But once you identify a problem, you have to have a solution. You are identifying a mental health issue, but where are the funds to support those identified as having a genuine problem through this hotline?"
Under the Safe2Say system, which started to roll out Jan. 14 but has yet to be implemented by many schools and school districts, tips go to a call center operated by the Attorney General's Office, which prioritizes and passes them on to schools, school districts or local 911 centers, depending on the nature of the call.
Joe Grace, spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said no state money will flow to districts for the program, but added that Safe2Say has a web site with materials for training that he is referring districts to access. He said the cost for operating Safe2Say for its initial year was proposed at $1.1 million.
“The Legislature appropriated half of that, or $550,000, due to the program launch date of mid-Jan. 2019 — which marks the half-way point of the state's fiscal year," he said.
One week, 615 tipsIn its first week, the statewide reporting system received 615 tips from across Pennsylvania. Crisis center analysts evaluated them and sent several hundred to local law enforcement and school officials to follow up with students, according to statement from the attorney general's office.
Though Sandy Hook Promise has trained 3.5 million students and teachers in 50 states in ways to detect and report signs of potential violence, Pennsylvania is the first state to mandate the program for all of its schools.
Shortly after it was activated, Shapiro announced that “it's working." He said an anonymous tip through the Safe2Say system alerted police to a potential threat involving a middle school student in Hazelton. Shapiro said that the anonymous caller had reported that a 14 year old allegedly made a threat against the school through the social media site SnapChat.