By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on January 16, 2020
Dare County Schools (DCS) has joined more than 100 other North Carolina school districts in implementing an anonymous reporting system that allows students to use a cell phone app, a crisis hotline or their desktop to relay a wide range of safety concerns to a call center. Those concerns can include everything from planned school attacks and bullying to hate crimes and suicidal behavior.
School officials said students in all of the district’s middle and high schools were expected to have completed training on the “Say Something” system by Jan. 16, allowing schools to immediately begin utilizing the new program.
The reporting system was created by the national non-profit organization, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), led by people who had loved ones killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT in 2012.
“This trains our students to look for warning signs and signals of threats, to act immediately and to take it seriously,” DCS Director of Administrative Services John Donlan told the Dare County Board of Education during its Jan. 13 regular meeting. The training encourages students to use the system to report tips or share their concerns with a trusted adult.
The local implementation of “Say Something” comes on the heels of two social media threats of violence made last month concerning First Flight High School. The first led to a lockdown of the three First Flight schools, the other, two days later, resulted in the closure of First Flight High, First Flight Middle and First Flight Elementary schools.
While more than 5,100 schools nationwide are currently utilizing the free-of-charge reporting system, North Carolina is one of only two states that has contracted with SHP to make it a statewide initiative this school year, according to Graham Wilson, director of communications for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
There are currently 375 schools in 110 North Carolina school districts that participate in SHP’s “Say Something” reporting system. Donlan acknowledged that in the past, Dare County Schools relied on the Dare County Crime Line as its means for students or others to report anonymous tips regarding safety concerns.
Last spring, the Department of Public Instruction partnered with SHP to launch the reporting system beginning in the 2019-2020 school year—a contract that will cost $635,000 over five years. By partnering with the organization, anonymous tips reported through the “Say Something” system go directly to a call center dedicated entirely to North Carolina, where they are vetted by staff trained by SHP. The call center receives calls around the clock, 365 days a year.
In an interview with the Voice, Wilson said the North Carolina call center assesses whether the information constitutes a “life and death situation and needs to be addressed immediately or it’s something ongoing.” He noted that based on the severity and urgency, tips are either reported to 911 and local police, district administrative teams, school leadership teams, or both.
He pointed out that an important component of the system is that while remaining anonymous, students and call center staff are able to have an online conversation so staff can interact with the person making the report and ask additional questions to accurately assess the threat.
The phone app allows students to report tips under categories such as weapons, reckless/dangerous behavior, planned school attack, physical abuse, depression and eating disorders, substance abuse intent to harm someone, social isolation, domestic violence and sexual assault, exploitation and harassment. The app also has an “other” category.
The NC Department of Public Instruction piloted the “Say Something” app in five school districts in 2015 and 2016, according to a department press release announcing the launch of the program. During that time, the call center received tips related to bullying (39%), danger (25%), drugs (24%), weapons (5%), fighting (5%), and underage drinking (2%).
While the app is geared primarily for students, any community member can download and utilize it free of charge. The app gives users the option of calling 911 in the event that it is an emergency.
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