Teens send dozens, hundreds, thousands of texts every month.
Since September 2014, many of the ones sent in Michigan have gone to the OK2SAY tipline.
Launched at the start of the 2014-2015 academic year, OK2SAY accepts tips via phone call, website, email, text messaging and smartphone app. By the end of the first semester, more than 400 tips had come in through those various routes, and an additional 191 came in during January.
Matt Bolger, assistant division commander for the Special Operations Division of the Michigan State Police, says the number of tips has far exceeded his agency’s expectations. Implemented in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy at the suggestion of Cadillac School District Superintendent and former Colorado school administrator Joann Spry, OK2SAY is based on Colorado’s Safe2Tell tipline. Colorado started Safe2Tell after the 1999 Columbine shooting, and student use increased gradually over time; however, OK2SAY jumped out to a much faster start, possibly due to the many means of access offered in today’s digital world.
“The majority of the tips relate to bullying or suicide. We refer those to the schools and to mental health personnel, rather than local law enforcement,” Bolger says. “The kids have adopted this program as their 411 for anything dealing with their safety, which I think is great. We get reports on drug dealing, on gang activity, on cyberbullying.”
And those tips have led to a number of success stories: “We had a tip about one student who planned to stab his brother, and tips on a number of possible suicides. One that comes to mind is a student who sent in a text and said he needed someone to talk to. Our staff member started a text conversation and found out the student had planned how he would kill himself and had even written a note. The tech reached to his school’s SRO, who reached his parents and they got him help,” Bolger says. “All in all, the students are embracing it and I can say with confidence that we’ve saved lives through suicide prevention.”
OK2SAY received a total of 54 tips related to threats of suicide in the first semester, along with 163 tips on bullying and cyberbullying, and 13 on child abuse. Tips also addressed assaults, sexual misconduct, sexting, fighting, domestic violence, dating violence, employee misconduct and theft.
“The 410 tips we received in the first semester did exceed our expectations,” says Sydney Allen, spokesperson for Attorney General Bill Schuette. The Attorney General’s office launched OK2SAY with a rollout campaign that included personal visits by Schuette to eight schools, and “we believe that the Attorney General speaking directly to students was a very effective way to get the word out. Although the initial rollout has ended, schools may still request a trained presenter to teach students and parents what the program is all about.”
OK2SAY operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, supported by staff in the State Police Fusion Center. Michigan used an existing school violence hotline as the basis for OK2SAY, but added an enhanced telephone system, computer software and staff to support the new service, which is open and accessible to everyone in the state with no enrollment or registration required. In addition to all of its various avenues for submitting a tip, OK2SAY includes an extensive website with links to resources for students and parents on alcohol, anger, bullying, cutting, cybersafety, drugs, eating disorders and suicide, and access to an interactive map that will lead users to mental health resources in their communities. In addition, Tom Izzo, men’s basketball coach at Michigan State University, has contributed his time for a promotional video.
“Bullying isn’t limited to schools that have chosen to enroll in a program, and it doesn’t discriminate between charter schools, public schools and private schools. Every student across the state should have access to confidentially report a tip about something that threatens their safety or the safety of others. That’s why it’s important to get the word out about OK2SAY to students, parents, teachers and administrators,” Allen says. “The goal is to change the culture of silence that is often found in schools. It’s really to give students the confidence and the freedom to know that it is ‘okay to say’ something to a trusted adult if something doesn’t feel quite right. As the Attorney General says, ‘if even one child’s life is saved by OK2SAY, then it’s been a success.’”
You can learn more about OK2SAY at http://www.michigan.gov/ok2say
Author: Becky Lewis, NLECTC