Education

New app will allow North Carolina students to share anonymous tips about school threats

Nicole Hockley, (Left), co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and State Superintendent Mark Johnson, (Right), discuss the Say Something program.

Middle-and high-school students across North Carolina will have an opportunity to download a new app next school year that allows them to anonymously report threats to school safety.

The “Say Something” reporting system will be offered to tens of  thousands of students via a partnership between the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit based in Newtown, Connecticut that’s led by people who lost loved ones in the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting that left 28 people dead.

“Students play a critical role in helping to keep schools safe,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said during a press conference Thursday. “They may see and hear concerns that adults need to know about but may be reluctant to report it.”

Johnson said students will be able to anonymously report behavior they find troubling.

“This goes from suspicious behavior where a student may be looking at hurting themselves or others,” Johnson said. ‘But it’s also available [to report] bullying or drug use, for crime. This is going to be a powerful tool to allow students to play that critical role in helping to keep schools safe.”

Johnson said school personnel and others will undergo training this summer so they can teach students how to identify and report at-risk behaviors in peers.

More than 5,100 schools nationwide currently uses the Say Something app. North Carolina will be the second statewide partnership for Sandy Hook Promise. Pennsylvania became the first in January.

Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, said the safety will give students the power to protect themselves and others.

Hockley’s son Dylan was among the 28 killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting. He was 6.

“It teachers them how to recognize at-risk signs in their peers and be able to get an intervention, be able to get that person help before it escalates into something else,” Hockley said.

She said the Say Something app will do a lot more than prevent school shootings.

“This will help bullying, this will help cutting, this will help suicide, this will help with sexual abuse, dating violence, drug abuse,” Hockley said. “It’s a wide spectrum of at-risk behaviors students will be trained to look for and how to call 911, tell a trusted adult or use the anonymous reporting system.”

Students using Say Something will be able to send tips via web, a phone hotline, or through the app – including photos and videos.

A crisis center staffed 24/7 by trained counselors will triage, categorize and deliver tip information. Tips will be categorized as either “life safety” or “non-life safety” based on the incident and information the school-based teams provide.

The Crisis Center will notify school-based representatives after hours when tips are life threatening and, in cases of imminent threat, contact local 911 dispatch.

The North Carolina Center for Safer Schools, which is part of the Department of Public Instruction, piloted an app in five school districts in 2015 and 2016.

In that pilot, the center received tips related to bullying (39 percent), danger (25 percent), drugs (24 percent), weapons (5 percent), fighting (5 percent); and underage drinking (2 percent).

The North Carolina General Assembly included development of a statewide app in the 2018-19 budget bill.

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