Tipline’s top calls: Bullies, self-harm
State AG says students’ fears will guide where to devote resources
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.