Kids saving kids: How statewide reporting tools can help prevent and stop school shootings

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Ashlee Petranovich, a high school student from Colorado, constantly thinks about something that many generations before her have not done.

“It’s always so scary and it’s always, like, in the back of my mind,” Petranovitch said.

She’s talking about a school shooting.

“Being locked up myself, I had to do it countless times as a student,” Petranovitch said. That’s why she became a Safe2Tell Student Ambassador at her school.

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Safe2Tell is a state-run program that allows Coloradans to report concerns anonymously – a first-of-its-kind program in response to Columbine.

“We really did the investigation and research into what happened and we knew people knew about it before, and we had to provide a reporting method,” said Susan Payne, founder of Safe2Tell.

Anonymous tipsters can voice their concerns via the Safe2Tell website, app, or a phone call.

“Teams are trained in threat and risk assessment and even numerical assessment so when they need to they can do an assessment and intervene early and we know we can stop it before let that happen,” Payne said.

Intervention can mean contacting a parent, talking to a student, or a welfare check.

“What we do know is the number of reports that have saved lives,” Payne continued. “We know we’ve prevented school shootings.”

The data of the latest annual report shows that in the 2020-2021 school year, Safe2Tell received more than 11,000 reports, only half of pre-pandemic.

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The majority of advice included suicide threats, welfare checks, drug use, self-harm and cyberbullying.

In the last three school years there is annual data for, Safe2Tell received more than 800 planned school attack reports.

While one incident could trigger multiple councils, Payne said the numbers speak for themselves.

“I know it works because the data doesn’t lie.” Payne said.

After Uvalde, Texas officials discussed statewide notification systems at a recent House committee meeting and how to push more schools to the one the state already has. .

It’s called iWatchTexas. According to Texas Department of Public Safety officials, the program received 300 school-related tips in 2021.

“That’s a very low number considering there are approximately 1,200 school districts in Texas,” Kimberly Jones said at the meeting, along with the Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division of the Texas DPS.

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CBS Investigates found that this is partly because some school districts in Texas each promote the anonymous reporting system they use, creating a patchwork.

“You really have to have a systematic framework if you’re going to do this successfully,” Payne said. “What a youngster might know from a friend who is really struggling with who he is playing club football with, he can go to a school across town or a private school nearby.”

The program isn’t perfect, however, as there are a small number of kids who use it to bully others. Even with that limitation, Payne said she thinks more states need to.

“The research really shows how important it is to have a protected reporting method, but also to have timely information sharing that goes to the boots on the ground at the local level, to the multi-disciplinary team of the school, to the local law enforcement agency and that there’s accountability and follow through,” Payne said. “I just think it just takes that investment.”

Investment, Payne said, is needed to save lives.

“It really scares me a bit to think that if Safe2Tell wasn’t there, who wouldn’t have been helped,” Petranovitch said.

Data is still coming in, as are calls, with the latest monthly report showing that the program received more than 19,000 tips for the 2021-2022 school year.

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