September 29, 2022
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Nebraska State Ed Board authorizes funding to continue Safe2Help hotline | Politics

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A school tip line that state officials say has successfully thwarted shootings in Nebraska will be funded for another year with federal COVID-19 aid.

But officials with the Nebraska Department of Education said Friday that they will eventually make a case to state lawmakers that it’s worth receiving state funding.

Members of the Nebraska State Board of Education voted Friday to approve a one-year, $809,445 contract with Boys Town to operate the Safe2Help line.

The money is coming from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund.

Brian Halstead, assistant Nebraska commissioner of education, said the law that created the program calls for collecting data and reporting back to the Legislature.

“We’ll collect the data,” Halstead said. “We think we can show and justify why this is a wise investment for everyone to continue to fund this with state general funds.”

Jolene Palmer, director of school safety with the Nebraska Department of Education, briefed the board on the program, which is already up and running.

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She said the line has received 1,300 reports, including 41 for weapons in school and 59 for alleged attacks.

The anonymous line gives a “voice to the voiceless, so that they can have somewhere to go with the information,” Palmer said.

Legislative Bill 322, passed last year and signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, expanded the reporting system statewide, giving students, staff and parents an anonymous way to make reports.

The reports can be made via phone, website or email.

The reports are fielded by trained crisis counselors, managed by Boys Town.

Reports are directed back to the local district or nonpublic school, where school-based threat assessment teams evaluate the report and, if necessary, take action.

If there’s an immediate threat, then the crisis counselors can alert emergency services, law enforcement or child protective services directly.

The most common reports were about someone considering suicide, followed by bullying.

Other concerns reported were dating violence, and threats against people and property.

In more than 80% of violent school incidents someone leaked information before the actual incident. In other words, four of five times someone knew what was about to happen.

“Our goal is to save lives, and our other goal is to make life better for kids, especially, like, if they’re being bullied,” Palmer said.

She said they’re serving about 40% of the students in Nebraska.

Every week a couple of more schools join the program, she said.

“We hope that we can get up to 100% in the very near future,” she said.

Chad Denker, superintendent with David City Public Schools, said he was initially skeptical about joining the line. Now he thinks it was one of the district’s best decisions.

He said his district took a “leap of faith,” assembled a threat assessment team to field the calls and trained students about the program.

He said they’ve received reports about teachers providing vaping materials to kids and about kids harming themselves.

“They were cutting themselves,” he said. “We’ve had kids call in and say, ‘My friend has been talking about committing suicide.’ And so we’ve been able to prevent some of the self-harm.”

joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077



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