Anonymous student tips help keep schools safe

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Capital News Service
LANSING — State officials are enthusiastic about the progress of a new school safety program that encourages students to anonymously report threatening activity.
“In the first year we were wondering how it would go, and I will say I think it’s been overwhelmingly successful,” said Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police.
Under the OK2SAY program, students can submit tips by text, email or phone app. The program also keeps tips completely confidential by law.

Funded by the Attorney General’s office, the program started in September. The Michigan State Police collects tips and notifies local school or law enforcement agencies with information needed to take action, Etue said.
As of April 30, 616 tips had been submitted. Michigan State Police technicians who collect the tips are trained to ask questions and must specify information local officials need to address the tip.
Of the 400 tips submitted between September and December 2014, 163 involved bullying or cyberbullying, and 54 were related to suicide threats. Other tips included threatened attacks, drug use, and dating violence, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Officials are learning from experience how to respond to different tips, said Matt Bolger, inspector of the MSP Special Operations Division, who oversees the program.
The first time a suicidal student texted OK2SAY was a challenge, Bolger said, but the technician was able to ask the right questions, find out where the student was, and then contact school offices who helped the student.
“Experiences from those kinds of incidents let our technicians improve their communication and figure out exactly what’s going on,” Bolger said.
Originally, technicians contacted local superintendents’ offices and police stations with tips. Now they contact the school official in charge of addressing tips, often a guidance counselor or a school resource police officer.
“That’s a quicker way to get to the right person in the school,” Bolger said.
About a dozen tips even came from students in other states, Bolger said, and technicians were still able to find them help.
The program’s website has an outcome report available for local school or law enforcement to fill out once tips are resolved, Bolger said, and both the State Police and the Attorney General’s Office look at these reports to see what more the program can do to help schools act on tips.
According to Bolger, the program has received outcome reports for 350 of the 616 tips.
“We encourage them to do the outcome report, it helps us help them,” Bolger said.
Bolger said technicians and schools might still talk about a situation even if an outcome report isn’t officially filled out. The Michigan State Police still has an idea of the situation’s outcome.
“We would prefer to know, not only to improve the program but for peace of mind, that something has been taken care of,” Bolger said, adding this 50 percent response rate is high for a survey that isn’t required.
Cadillac Area Schools Superintendent Joann Spry said the OK2SAY program evolved from an idea her administrative team had in 2013. It was modeled on an existing program in Colorado that Spry helped create as a principal there.
Spry said the program is effective because it is the first hotline that keeps tips confidential and uses technology that students are most familiar with — texting and phone apps.
“It makes us so proud to know that we have people in the state that see how important this is,” Spry said.
The Attorney General’s Office has contracted 30 presenters to raise awareness about OK2SAY among the state’s 1.5 million students. In March, 83 presentations were given to a total of 12,000 middle school and high school attendees.
Bolger said he notices an increase in tips from schools where presenters have recently talked about the program.
“The message that through these presentations we are trying to get is, you don’t have to be afraid to say something, you don’t have to worry that you will become the next target,” said Chris Coady, a presenter from the Lansing area.
The Michigan State Police and Attorney General’s Office will report to the legislature this summer about the program’s progress and improvements that still need to be made, including continuing crisis intervention training and a more user-friendly website, Bolger said.

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