Students, staff and community members reported over 300 safety incidents at Idaho schools last year. And the state has received at least 23 reports less than a month into 2023.
That’s according to Mike Munger, school safety manager for the Idaho School Safety and Security program, who presented the figures to the House and Senate education committees Thursday. Munger sourced the data from the See Tell Now! tip line, a program administered through the state Office of School Safety and Security that allows students, school staff and community members to anonymously report safety concerns through an app or hotline.
Incident reports have risen considerably since the tip line started in 2019, mostly because of increased awareness. In the first year, the state received 64 reports. In 2022, 302 incidents were reported.
There are over 35 types of tips, Munger said. Each is evaluated and categorized. Of the total reports in the 2021-2022 school year, 180 were standard, 25 were urgent and 6 were critical reports — meaning students posed an immediate threat to themselves or their classmates. The remaining 5 were categorized as “other.”
An overwhelming majority of reports came from students; 110 were related to bullying, 22 concerned drugs/vaping, 20 involved mental health emergencies, 12 were personal threats and 2 resulted from threats to a school.
Standard tips — low-level safety concerns — are handled by the local schools, while urgent reports are forwarded to local law enforcement if district support is not immediately available. Most critical calls come from students who are in imminent danger, Munger said, and are forwarded to local law enforcement and/or the Idaho suicide and crisis hotline.
“I certainly would thank you and commend you for your support of this program, because it does save lives,” Munger told House committee members.
The majority of reports to the tip line actually come from rural communities, he told Senate Education. That might be because larger districts already had reporting systems in place, and the state doesn’t want schools dismantling something that is already working.
Munger also previewed a bill that is in the works, to tweak the tip line. The bill would address the confidentiality of tips, and add penalties for people who knowingly report false tips.
Munger also gave lawmakers a deeper look into Gov. Brad Little’s proposed $20 million school safety grant program, announced during his Jan. 9 State of the State address.
The grants should not be used for short-term projects, or anything that would need renewed funding, Munger said Thursday.
Instead, the one-time money should fund “meaningful, durable and demonstrated effective investments” in school safety. And they should be directly tied to the state’s school safety and security assessments, which examine vulnerabilities on school campuses and in communities.
“We’re not interested in solving problems we don’t have just because someone saw that there was $20 million available,” Munger told House Education.
He suggested districts use the funds to install locks, single-point entry systems, perimeter fencing, PA systems that can be well-heard throughout schools or updated fire safety systems. The $20 million will not be enough to solve every school safety issue, he said. But it can be used to help most schools reach the baseline.
Munger urged the committee to keep his suggestions in mind as they weigh policy options this session.
“You will have…a lot of folks coming up with lots of bright ideas about school safety and security,” Munger said. “I’m more than happy to talk with those folks, or talk with you and help you navigate, because there’s a lot of folks with bright ideas and a few folks with effective ideas.”
The House Committee heard additional reports Thursday morning. State Department of Education CFO Gideon Tolman gave the committee an overview of the SDE budget, and State Board of Education executive director Matt Freeman briefed the representatives on their constitutional obligation to “establish and maintain a general, uniform, and thorough system of public, free common schools.”
Senate Education hears its first bill of the year
Senate Education wrapped up the second week of the session by looking at its first bill of the year — a wording change from the State Board.
The bill would clarify the language for the state’s self-directed learner and extended learner program, which is designed to provide scheduling flexibility for high-achieving students. The wording change wouldn’t affect student participation, but it would affect funding. The State Board wants to add language to make sure districts and charters still get full funding for students who use the flexible scheduling — but only for full-time students in the program.
Senate Education introduced the bill, which could come back for a full hearing at a later date.
Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.