Safe2Tell program helps protect students
A statewide, state-funded service for school communities that allows students and others to report threatening or dangerous situations anonymously has ramped back up with more tips received as Colorado schools are back in session in person.
Local school leaders say the Safe2Tell program is effective and beneficial, and they hope students will continue to report concerns, ranging from cyberbullying to abuse in a home to mental health issues.
During the pandemic when more students were learning remotely, reports to Safe2Tell about cyberbullying at times increased to the third-most reported category of concern statewide, said Stacey Jenkins, Safe2Tell director.
Tips can be submitted through a phone call, mobile app or the website safe2tell.org, but the reporting party is kept anonymous. According to state statute defining the program, locally designated school and law enforcement officials both receive the notices and work to determine appropriate responses to each situation.
Steamboat Springs High School Assistant Principal Dennis Alt said the high school receives at least five Safe2Tell reports each month that are often related to concerns for other students’ safety including depression or related to cyberbullying including inappropriate use of Snapchat, TikTok or texts.
“It’s a really effective tool for our community and has had a positive impact for our students,” said Alt, noting Safe2Tell is listed on the back of the student IDs.
Steamboat Springs Middle School Assistant Principal Official Joe Laliberte calls the Safe2Tell program “extremely beneficial,” noting the school has at least one Safe2Tell report monthly.
“Safe2Tell allows us to adequately address these things and really come to a table as a community that responds to these events,” Laliberte said. “It’s an invaluable tool that we use to support kids.”
Laliberte said Safe2Tell reports may range from sexting to self-harm to child abuse. For cyberbullying, families of students who are posting harassing materials are contacted.
“Families have been overwhelmingly supportive in getting that information, otherwise they would have no idea their kid is posting this stuff,” Laliberte noted.
Laliberte said the reports received represent a mix of new issues along with existing concerns where a student is already working with a counselor or school-based therapist.
Safe2Tell Colorado is available 24 hours a day every day by phone call, mobile app or website reporting. Concerns or threats are submitted anonymously. Call 877-542-7233 or visit Safe2Tell.org.
Jenkins said tip volumes in August increased 36% compared to August 2020, but the numbers are still not back up to pre-pandemic levels. Tips received during the 2020-21 school year decreased by 45% statewide compared to the previous school year before the pandemic.
Of the 972 tips received statewide last month, the top category remains suicide threats at 146 tips, and suicide has stayed the top tip category for the past three years, Jenkins said. The other top categories in August were duplicate reports (93), welfare check (67), school complaint (55) and threats (51).
Through August of this year, Safe2Tell has received 93,271 tips statewide since its inception in 2004, not counting duplicate, prank, hang-up and test tips.
The service was created following the 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton were 12 students and one teacher were killed by two student gunmen. Jenkins said research showed that multiple people had pieces of the puzzle about the Columbine shooters, but the pieces were not put together. So Safe2Tell organizers consider a high number of duplicate tips as a healthy reporting culture to help keep school communities safe.
Longtime teacher Cindy Ruzicka, now at Steamboat Springs Middle School, said in the current age of social media, targeted youth may become easily overwhelmed by hurtful online comments and may quickly swing toward mental health impacts.
“It’s empowering for students to know that they can almost be a first responder of sorts to help their own friends in mental health crisis,” Ruzicka said. “We want kids to always take those moments seriously, and this is a low-stake way for them to support their friends.”
South Routt School District Superintendent Rim Watson said the school has received 15 Safe2Tell reports in the past five years, 13 of which were addressed by school officials and two by law enforcement. The situations range from possible child neglect to drug use in a home.
“I think it’s an exceptional program. I’m glad it exists,” Watson said. “It is a protected, guaranteed way to get your message to an adult.”
Laliberte said law enforcement is only involved with a Safe2Tell report when necessary, when requested by schools or “in rare cases with imminent health and safety concerns.”
Jenkins said students may choose to go directly to a specific, trusted adult about concerns, but Safe2Tell is available 24 hours a day, every day, as a first-line, backup or duplicate reporting option. All public, private or charter K-12 schools in Colorado are automatically enrolled in Safe2Tell, which operates under the Colorado Department of Law, Office of the Attorney General.
After local officials receive a text indicating a Safe2Tell report has been received related to their school, officials have 15 minutes to acknowledge and review the situation in an online system. Investigating or addressing the concern should happen within 24 hours, Jenkins said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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