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With Act 44 going into effect yesterday, middle and high schools across the Commonwealth are now required to implement the Safe2Say program, “a one-stop shop for students, teachers and community members to report behavior perceived to be threatening to an individual or a school entity.”
The Safe2Say app and phone hotline make it easy to submit tips that get routed to a crisis center operated by the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (with backend support from the Sandy Hook Promise, which developed the reporting system).
After receiving a tip, the AG’s office will ask for additional info using a chat interface and identify the tip as threatening life safety or not. Tips will then be passed along to a team in the respective school district, as well as law enforcement through county-level 911 dispatch.
For Lebanon School District, assistant to the Superintendent for Human Resources & Pupil Services Dr. Chris Danz is leading the Safe2Say rollout. Danz said in an interview that the apps and hotline will provide another avenue to report at-risk behavior and hopefully breaks down some additional barriers for doing so.
Each school entity is required to have a 3-5 person response team. For Lebanon School District, a five-person team has gone through in-person and webinar trainings, as well as meetings with local law enforcement and emergency response personnel to coordinate how threats will be handled.
“We’ve gone through some mock tips where we’ve submitted tips,” said Danz, with the team feeling confident about reporting and communicating using the system. The next step is student training, materials for which were just released Monday.
Cornwall-Lebanon School District also has five people on its response team, with superintendent Dr. Phil Domencic saying that the middle and high school would be having training for students over the next couple of weeks. As with other area school districts, Safe2Say is seen as complementing preexisting protocols for identifying at-risk behavior. “We already have an incredible amount of systems in place,” said Domencic in a phone interview.
Eastern Lebanon County (ELCO) High School assistant principal Craig Soden lead Safe2Say implementation for his district, and said in an email that the district’s five-person response team is comprised of administrators from district level, high school level, and middle school level.
Domencic and Soden both noted that their districts’ in-house police officers have been helpful in coordinating with other local law enforcement authorities as well as 911 dispatch.
“Communication and training is the key to the success of any new initiative,” said Soden in preface to explaining the district’s messaging plan, which begins today with ELCO sending families info on Safe2Say.
The training material delay by the AG’s office plays into the mixed reception the program’s received so far across the Commonwealth due to how it’s been implemented so far.
For one, Erie area school districts told the Erie Times-News that training sessions were limited and not that useful (in addition to the editorial board’s outright criticism of the project’s shaky start so far).
Lancaster Newspapers also said the program is off to a rocky start, quoting Penn Manor superintendent Mike Leichliter as saying, “While it is a good idea, the implementation has not been very clear and seamless for us.” Last Friday in Lancaster County, State Senator Scott Martin and State Representative Bryan Cutler wrote to AG Josh Shapiro citing the feedback they had heard regarding a confusing rollout (letter uploaded by Lancaster Online).
Letter to Attorney General by on Scribd
The Commonwealth through the Office of the Attorney General is operating and funding the Crisis Center and Sandy Hook Promise has underwritten the training and education, so there’s no direct cost to schools. School officials and 911 dispatchers have received training on the system for free.
Program administrators are bracing for a flood of activity in the initial student messaging and training period over the coming month, although students will be warned that false reports can be treated as misdemeanors and go on their permanent record.
Danz acknowledged that it will take some time and planning to make sure Lebanon’s team is ready for the influx, but program administrators have said that less than ½ of 1% of tips will be false submissions based on similar programs nationally.
Tips are expected to take just a few minutes to process by the AG’s office before info is sent to the school/district.
Regarding concern from students about the potential for the app to be used for disciplinary purposes, the legislation emphasizes that this isn’t the primary purpose, and that the focus is on protecting entities that are threatened by other individuals.
Although many different types of actions can be reported through the app (like having matches or registering a “general school complaint”), the following are emphasized by the Sandy Hook Promise team:
- Abuse (physical, verbal)
- Bullying or regular intimidation
- Bragging about an upcoming planned attack
- Depression, anxiety or loss of self-control
- Gun Violence / Violence
- Hopelessness, excessive guilt or worthlessness
- Reckless behavior
- Social isolation or withdrawal
- Substance abuse
- Suicide threats, cutting or other self-harm
- Weapons (use of and/or discussion about)
According to a slide posted by the PA School Board Association, approximately 40-60% of tips will be deemed life safety tips and 10-15% will be very serious. Suicide, suicide ideation, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, school violence, bullying/cyber-bullying, and gang violence are all expected to be among the most common tip types.
The identities of individuals who make a tip will not be disclosed to law enforcement officers and employees of the office unless the tipster grants permission for this to happen.
We should have a first look at the numbers behind the rollout by August when the first state-mandated annual report is due.
The Sandy Hook Promise believes that every act of gun violence is preventable. Here’s one of their video messages.
The app is available for iOS and Android devices. Find links and a couple screenshots below.