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Safe2Say allows LD, Middletown students to anonymously report risky behavior, including threats

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 2/6/19

Safe2Say — a new state-mandated program allowing students to anonymously submit a tip to report “at-risk” behavior that could lead to an act of school violence — has been …

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Safe2Say allows LD, Middletown students to anonymously report risky behavior, including threats

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Safe2Say — a new state-mandated program allowing students to anonymously submit a tip to report “at-risk” behavior that could lead to an act of school violence — has been launched in Middletown Area School District as of Jan. 14.

“This system across the country has saved hundreds of lives. It has prevented school shootings,” district Superintendent Lori Suski said in unveiling Safe2Say to the school board on Jan. 22.

Students and others can report a tip anonymously using a mobile app, website or hotline.

Each tip goes to specially trained agents in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office who analyze the tip and refer the information to school officials and law enforcement in the respective community, if deemed necessary.

The program is being implemented in grades 6 through 12, Suski told the school board.

The district will continue encouraging students to report at-risk behavior to an adult in the schools like a teacher or administrator, she added.

But she acknowledged some students might not be comfortable doing so or may wish to be anonymous. Safe2Say provides a mechanism for doing so.

The state is providing funding to implement Safe2Say, including associated training to educate staff and students on the “warning signs” of at-risk behavior, Suski said.

Safe2Say is modeled on a program devised by Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization created after the shooting massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.

Last October, officials announced Pennsylvania would be first in the nation to implement Safe2Say statewide, intending the program be in place in all schools by early January.

Suski’s presentation included a long list of examples of tips that could be made by students using Safe2Say, from those warning of imminent danger such as an active shooter, to a large number of “nonlife safety” tips related to at-risk behavior like possessing alcohol, sexting and bullying.

Officials with the AG’s office have emphasized in published accounts that if a student sees something indicating that a person has imminent plans to hurt themselves or others, the situation should be immediately reported using 911. Safe2Say is not meant as a substitute for 911.

Tips that turn out to be hoaxes or false claims are estimated to be less than one-half of 1 percent of the total, according to Suski’s presentation.

“It better not be a hoax, because you are reporting it to the office of the attorney general and there could be ramifications,” she said.

For example, in case of a hoax or of an individual found to be abusing Safe2Say, the district can request a court order to try and uncover the person’s anonymity.

However, Suski emphasized the district will not “break” a tipster’s anonymity without a court order, and that there are no exceptions to this rule.

Safe2Say also went live in Lower Dauphin School District on Jan. 14, to meet the state-imposed deadline for when the program must be in place in all districts, said Lower Dauphin spokesman Jim Hazen.

Safe2Say was to be presented to all Lower Dauphin students and staff in grades 6 through 12 on Friday. However, Hazen said the AG had already referred two tips to Lower Dauphin that the office had received through Safe2Say since the program went live on Jan. 14.

One tip concerned a different school district, and the other tip had to do with an incident that had occurred in November.

Nevertheless, “it was good practice” for the five LD administrators who are “on call 24/7” to respond to all Safe2Say tips that come through the AG’s office, Hazen said.

On a related note, Middletown Area School Board on Jan. 22 also approved nearly $114,000 in contracts with Choice Security Services for security upgrades in all five district schools.

The district has received a $108,000 check toward the upgrades from Phoenix Contact, a German-owned company whose U.S. headquarters is on Fulling Mill Road in Lower Swatara Township.

Phoenix Contact pledged to donate at least $100,000 following the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed at a school.

The company’s first down payment on that pledge came in June, when Phoenix Contact covered the entire $11,900 price tag for a districtwide “risk and vulnerability assessment” done by Vulnerability Solutions Group LLC, a Mechanicsburg-based consulting firm.