Pa. school safety tip-line used more to report bullying, suicidal thoughts, than violent threats
In this Monday, July 22, 2019, photo, cyberbullying victim Rachel Whalen looks at her phone. Pennsylvania’s Safe2Say Something program received 3,558 tips about bullying in its first six months. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
A Pennsylvania tip system created to improve school safety fielded some tips about school violence, but received far more inquiries about student mental health, according to new data.
The state created the Safe2Say Something program — an anonymous tip line — after school shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas.
And while lots of students, educators, and administrators used the program during its first six months, few used it to report threats of violence against their schools.
Instead, many of the 23,494 tips received online or by phone were related to bullying, self-harm, thoughts of suicide, or depression, according to data released by Pennsylvania’s Office of the Attorney General.
“The numbers in this report show the reality of what our children are facing in school as they struggle with bullying, anxiety and thoughts of self-harm,” according to the program’s inaugural report. “The Attorney General urges Pennsylvania’s Legislature to read this report, study the data and act to address the need for increased mental health resources for students across our Commonwealth.”
Less than three percent of the total tips received were about threats of school violence — 607 of them between mid-January and the end of June.
The most common type of tip involved bullying or cyber bullying, according to the Office of the Attorney General.
(Pa. Attorney General’s Office)
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), who co-sponsored the legislation that created the system, said the results should inspire lawmakers to invest more in mental health services.
“It’s another picture to what’s really happening with our young people,” said Hughes. “And we need to see that picture clearly and make sure that we respond appropriately.”
Hughes and his co-sponsor, State Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), believe “Safe2Say Something” has proven necessary.
“There is no question that this program is contributing to a safer school environment,” Browne said in a statement.
Most of the tips — 82 percent — came through the “Safe2Say Something” mobile app. The rest came via the web or phone. The report did not say how many of the tips led to a formal intervention by law enforcement.
The Attorney General’s Office also said that most of the tips were earnest attempts to seek help. Officials classified about 1,300 tips as pranks, and did not include those false tips in the reported total.
The General Assembly passed a bill to create the “Safe2Say Something” system last year. The Office of the Attorney General partnered with the advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise to create the program and launched the tip system in January.
The roll out of the program also included training for students, educators, and administrators on how to use the system.
Pennsylvania spent a little over $700,000 this year to run the crisis center that fields the tips.
Keystone Crossroads is a statewide reporting collaborative of WITF, WPSU and WESA, led by WHYY. This story originally appeared at https://whyy.org/programs/keystone-crossroads.