Office of School Safety hits the road to market tip line

Kayla Green wandered through rows of elementary students sitting on Wilder Elementary School’s gym floor last Thursday, mic in hand, trying to explain to the youngsters when they should report that they — or their friends — need help.

The students, gathered for an assembly, were wearing superhero outfits for a spirit week. Green built off that theme.

“Part of being a superhero is being a good friend, right?” Green told the kids. “And part of that is helping people when they need it.”

Green, an employee of the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security, has been touring Idaho teaching children and districts about a tip line, called See, Tell, Now! which allows students and parents to report school-related concerns via mobile app, phone call or website.

When she talks to high school students about the tip line, the groups discuss things like dating violence and suicide warnings. Connecting to elementary students takes a more subtle approach.

“A tip line is a place where you can go tell something, when there are things that cause concern,” Green told the kids. “If someone says something mean to you, or does something mean to you on the playground or on the bus after school, that’s kind of what the tip line is for.”

The Idaho Office of School Safety and Security launched the See, Tell, Now! tip line in April with federal government grant money. The goal, Green said, was to provide a simple way for schools to catch safety concerns, especially in districts that can’t afford to operate a tip line on their own.

Response has been mixed, Green said. Since April she has signed up about 40 of Idaho’s 150-some school districts. Districts in the northern and eastern parts of the state have been particularly enthusiastic, Green said. The southwestern region, where larger districts typically have more resources, has been a harder sell. A major concern for some districts, Green said, has been the longevity of a tip line with limited funding.

While Green hopes to touch base with every district by the end of the 2019-20 school year, her approach has been to focus on the enthusiastic districts first. Districts such as Payette, where Superintendent Robin Gilbert says the district wouldn’t have the resources to build a tip line for themselves.

“A lot of the things that we learn about kids at risk, we learn from other kids,” Gilbert said. “We have to find a way to listen to them were they feel safe sharing.”

How does it work?

Students, parents and community members can can call in tips to 888-593-2835, send them through a mobile app or through the website.

The tips are screened by the company Sprigeo, which claims on its website to service more than 4,000 schools in 28 states. Sprigeo sorts tips into three categories — standard, urgent or critical — and this determines the alert the school gets.

A standard tip, something like a report of bullying, prompts an email from the call center to designated district contacts.

An urgent tip, like a planned fight on school grounds, prompts Sprigeo to call a district and ask if the district wants to handle a complaint, or if the tip should go to local law enforcement.

And for a critical tip, like a threat of a planned school shooting, Sprigeo would immediately contact law enforcement, then follow up with the district.

Will second time be the charm?

See, Tell, Now! is not Idaho’s first try with a tip line.

While details about the last tip line are somewhat murky, a Lewiston Tribune article outlines then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s plan for a telephone hotline two decades ago as part of his Safe Schools Task Force. That effort didn’t survive.

The longevity of See, Tell, Now! isn’t set in stone either. The tip line is funded through 2021, but the Office of School Safety & Security will need more grant money, or a state allocation, to keep the program running beyond that.

“That has been a little bit of a stickler for school systems who say, ‘We’d love to come on board, but is there stability?'” Brian Armes, director of the Office of School Safety and Security, told his board earlier this month. “At this point, all we can say is, we don’t know.”

Green says the cost of maintaining a statewide tip line is pennies on the dollar compared to districts trying to fund their own. See, Tell, Now! would cost around $250,000 per year at a state level, she said. Comparatively, some districts have been quoted up to $150,000 to run a local tip line. Additionally, she says, a statewide tip line allows information to jump from district to district, helping coordinate response across district boundaries.

So far, See, Tell, Now! has received about three dozen tips, Green said. As she does assemblies, that number ticks up. She’s expecting the line will receive between 1,000 and 1,500 tips a year once more districts have been trained.

Evaluating the tip line’s impact, Green said, will be less about the volume or severity of those tips, and more about tracking how many of those tips are credible, and whether districts take action to address them.

“How many of these kids felt like their problem was at least heard or resolved,” Green said. “Sometimes, just having your voice heard makes a huge difference.”

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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