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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Safe Say fields tips, puts focus on mental health services for students

Between Westmoreland and Alle­gheny counties, almost 3,240 calls were reported through Pennsylvania’s Safe2Say Something Program, a 24-hour tipline that allows students, parents and teachers to anonymously report something suspicious online or from a person who poses a threat to themselves or others.

According to a report released by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, almost 23,500 tips were fielded between January to June 23,500 tips were fielded between January to June across the state, with 3,560 reports for bullying and cyberbullying, almost 2,530 reports for cutting and self-harm, more than 2,180 reports for suicide and suicide ideation and more than 2,120 reports for depression and anxiety.
Here’s how Westmoreland County stacked up:
• Bullying or cyberbullying: 162
• Smoking (tobacco, e-cigarettes, vaping): 151
• Drug use, distribution or possession: 134
• Cutting or self-harm: 108
• Suicide or suicide ideation: 94
• Depression or anxiety: 76
• Inappropriate language, behavior or gestures: 52
• Anger issues: 44
• Threats against school: 39
• Planned attack, fight or assault: 37
“There’s not so much roving violence in the schools,” said state Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield. “I think teens today, they’re searching for identity, they’re struggling as teens often have done, so the fact that students are reaching out with concerns for other students who are not feeling comfortable, it seems to make sense.”
In the report, Shapiro called for an increase in mental health services available to students. Nelson agreed, saying he has spoken with Jason Conway, executive director of the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit, about creating a program that would be available to all schools in the county.
“It could be much more achievable to begin a program if it was coordinated through the IU that all of the districts could tap into, if needed,” Nelson said.
According to Shapiro’s report, students in Allegheny County reported the highest number of tips — 1,940 — including almost 330 for bullying or cyber bullying; 170 for drug use, distribution or possession; almost 160 for cutting or self-harm; more than 150 for suicide or suicide ideation and over 135 for depression and anxiety.
Allegheny County schools fielded more than 65 threats against schools and 55 threats against a person.
Across the state, Capital Area Intermediate Unit 15, near Summerdale, reported more than 1,610 tips; Chester County Intermediate Unit had 1,590 tips; Colonial Intermediate Unit 20, near Easton, reported more than 1,495 tips; and Bucks County Intermediate Unit 22 had more than 1,400 tips.
According to the Associated Press, the program fielded 4,900 tips in its first month, with about one third serious enough to pass along to police.
Jacklin Rhoads, spokesperson with the Attorney General’s office, said the tips have not led to any charges. Nelson added that tips are “taken seriously and there’s a very prompt response. … They try to engage the parents, the kids — there’s an enormous amount of communication that goes on.”
Started in January, Safe2Say teaches students, parents and teachers how to spot warning signs for potential dangers, giving them an outlet to post concerns. It was started by state Sens. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia/Montgomery, and Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, along with the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization aimed at protecting children from gun violence after a Connecticut shooting claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six staff members in 2012.
Tips can be unanimously submitted by calling 844-723-2729, on or through an associated app. According to the report, 3,585 tips were reported through the website, more than 19,390 through the app and almost 520 tips were submitted over the phone.
After a tip is submitted, it is sent to a call center in Harrisburg, which receives calls and emails 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and assesses it for viability and legitimacy. This year, the center fielded 1,300 prank tips.
From there, it is referred to the appropriate school district or police department for action.
“I am pleased that the Safe2Say Something annual report shows the program is having a tremendous impact in its early stages,” Hughes said in a news release. “I am hopeful that our communities continue to embrace Safe2Say Something and use it as a means to protect our schools and get those who may be struggling the help they need.”
So far, the program has cost almost $743,430. Nelson said he hopes Safe2Say remains a place where students feel safe submitting tips.
According to the Associated Press, Shapiro must produce an annual report that includes the total number of calls for the year for as long as the program is viable, calls broken down by school entity and the cost.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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