Ti­pline’s top calls: Bul­lies, self-harm

State AG says stu­dents’ fears will guide where to de­vote re­sources

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Hall

Penn­syl­va­nia schools need more re­sources to ad­dress the bul­ly­ing and men­tal health is­sues that cause stu­dents to harm them­selves and con­sider sui­cide, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro said Wed­nes­day in a dis­cus­sion with high school stu­dents on the state’s new school safety app and ti­pline.

Be­tween mid-Jan­uary, when the pro­gram started, and the end of June, Safe2Say Some­thing gen­er­ated about 23,500 tips on safety con­cerns from vap­ing and drug use to threats

against peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, which was com­piled last month. Since June, the line re­ceived an ad­di­tional 5,000 tips, Shapiro said.

Those tips, in ad­di­tion to feed­back from stu­dents in lis­ten­ing ses­sions planned around the state, are cru­cial to de­ter­min­ing what re­sources ed­u­ca­tors need to keep stu­dents safe, said state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Le­high, who was with Shapiro and Sen. Vin­cent Hughes, D-Mont­gomery/Philadel­phia, in Carlisle, Cum­ber­land County.

“As a work in progress, the abil­ity to get con­stant feed­back from the hun­dreds of thou­sands of stu­dents who have been trained and in­volved in this has in­fi­nite value in re­gards to what we will do to­mor­row with it,” said Browne, who sponsored the leg­is­la­tion that cre­ated Safe2Say.

Most preva­lent among them were: con­cerns about bul­ly­ing or cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, ac­count­ing for 15% of the to­tal; cut­ting or self-harm, ac­count­ing for 11%; and sui­cide or sui­ci­dal thoughts, about 9%.

“Stu­dents are strug­gling with stress, they’re strug­gling with men­tal health is­sues. They need more re­sources of peo­ple to be able to talk to,” Shapiro said. “The tips demon­strate that need that ex­ists in our schools to­day.”

The re­port re­flects what Le­high Val­ley school of­fi­cials and law en­force­ment of­fi­cers told The Morn­ing Call last spring as the school year drew to a close.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s re­port breaks down the Safe2Say Some­thing tip data by in­ter­me­di­ate unit, the re­gional ed­u­ca­tional ser­vice agen­cies that cover mul­ti­ple school dis­tricts.

Colo­nial In­ter­me­di­ate Unit 20, which in­cludes 13 dis­tricts and three vo­ca­tional schools in Mon­roe, Northamp­ton and Pike coun­ties, re­ceived 1,496 tips. Le­high Car­bon In­ter­me­di­ate Unit 21, which cov­ers 14 dis­tricts, re­ceived 1,282.

In both units, the largest num­bers of tips dealt with self-harm, bul­ly­ing, or de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

Todd Repsher, Beth­le­hem Area School Dis­trict co­or­di­na­tor of school safety and emer­gency man­age­ment, said in May he was sur­prised at the fre­quency of tips about self­harm and cut­ting. They gave the dis­trict guid­ance to make sup­port ser­vices avail­able to stu­dents and alert fam­i­lies.

“Most par­ents I’ve spo­ken to, even though many were aware of the is­sues, they were very grate­ful that we were reach­ing out,” he said.

Oth­ers said this spring that the in­flux of tips from Safe2Say Some­thing brought to their at­ten­tion the de­gree to which men­tal health is­sues af­fect stu­dents.

“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 self­harm,” the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s re­port said.

It urged leg­is­la­tors to study the data and act to pro­vide men­tal health re­sources for stu­dents across the state.

Cre­ated through leg­is­la­tion signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last year, Safe2Say Some­thing is op­er­ated by the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice. It cost $743,428 in its first year.

Nearly 864,000 Penn­syl­va­nia school stu­dents in about 1,000 dis­tricts and pri­vate schools have been trained to rec­og­nize signs of trou­ble among oth­ers, par­tic­u­larly in so­cial me­dia posts, and to re­port them through the Safe2Say app or 24-hour ti­pline staffed by the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice.

Cri­sis cen­ter an­a­lysts are trained to as­sess and pri­or­i­tize tips by com­mu­ni­cat­ing anony­mously with tip­sters to en­sure there’s enough in­for­ma­tion for school and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to act on. They try to de­ter­mine if tips have the po­ten­tial to af­fect safety or not. Those found to present an im­me­di­ate threat are de­liv­ered to law en­force­ment via the lo­cal 911 dis­patch cen­ter.

Some tips dealt with threats or per­ceived threats against peo­ple, but those ac­counted for only 2% of the to­tal statewide.

In March, a tip to Safe2Say Some­thing led to a school­wide lock-in that kept stu­dents in class­rooms at Beth­le­hem’s Lib­erty High School af­ter a stu­dent re­ported see­ing some­one walk in with a ri­fle.

Of­fi­cials were able to con­tact the tip­ster to get ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about the lo­ca­tion, re­view security footage and quickly de­ter­mine that the gun was ac­tu­ally a the­atri­cal prop.

Colo­nial In­ter­me­di­ate Unit re­ceived 39 threats against peo­ple. Le­high Car­bon In­ter­me­di­ate re­ceived 33 threats.

The re­port also ad­dressed abuse of the Safe2Say Some­thing sys­tem. It re­ceived 1,300 tips that were pranks, false alarms or de­lib­er­ate abuse of the sys­tem.

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