App helps students reporting abuse

It has been more than six years since the horrific shooting that killed 20 children in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Out of this tragedy came a movement to take more action to keep children safe in the schools they attend–one that has been modernized to reach potential victims where they are.

Pennsylvania recently passed Act 44, statewide legislation to help students report threats and violence in schools. Through the system, all public schools in the state are required to use “Safe2Say,” a mobile application that allows students and parents to send anonymous reports about situations they deem dangerous to the school or individual students.

The app is sponsored by Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit organization formed following the 2012 shooting as part of the movement for more safety in schools. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, along with Sandy Hook Promise, is operating the new reporting system.

Joseph Orr, superintendent of Jefferson-Morgan School District, said each district, in addition to the state, is required to have a team to monitor the reports that come through the app. The reports go to the contact team for that school district and may go to the 911 call center if the report is serious enough.

Orr said he believes the app will provide a safe environment for students to come to every day.

“If they feel a student has made comments that are life-threatening in nature, a student that has made comments about wanting to hurt themselves,” Orr said. “If they’ve witnessed harassment of another student and they want to report it, it just gives them a way to do that.”

Orr said the schools were informed a little about the app during the fall, as Act 44 was passed several months ago. The app officially launched Jan. 14., said Brandon Robinson, principle of Jefferson-Morgan, and the school started training their students the day after. Since they had not heard much about the app before January, Robinson said it was a very quick window to make sure all students’ parents were informed and everyone was trained.

After the short training period for high and middle school students, the app has been in practice for about a month.

Robinson said the reports go through three levels: school authorities, police and “all hands-on deck.”

“If it is a high level of violence and they get that information, all of us will be contacted at once,” he said. “911 will get a call, I will get a call and the state police will get a call all at the same time if it’s on that level.”

Robinson said the contact team has only received three tips through the app so far in their school district. The reason for this, he believes, is that students feel comfortable enough to come directly to him, the assistant principal or the guidance counselor when they are concerned about anything going on. With this in mind, Robinson said he sees the app more as a safety net at the small school and to prevent incidents like Sandy Hook.

“I know a lot of the students and the families, so they often feel more comfortable just coming to me to talk to me about [their concerns], but the app is there for them,” Robinson said.

Orr said the app will also benefit Jefferson-Morgan tips are left anonymously.

“I think that it will be most helpful especially if there is an issue where someone is not really comfortable or does not make connections with adults in a school district,” he said. “This gives them a vehicle to let someone know that they need help or that they know someone that needs help.”

Orr said that although the app has not been used much in the Jefferson-Morgan School District as of yet, he believes it is already achieving its purpose and will continue to do so.

“If one student was to use it and identify a serious situation, that one incident would be enough to say it’s worked,” Orr said.