Safe Schools app aims to reduce violence, bullying

Published 9:28 pm Sunday, October 9, 2022

By Emily Burleigh

The Louisiana Department of Education has partnered with Crimestoppers Greater New Orleans to strengthen school security throughout the state with the Safe Schools Louisiana program.

This turnkey project provides services through the free Crimestoppers GNO app, Say It Here.

The app puts the power into the hands of the students by allowing them to anonymously submit tips regarding bullying, violence, criminal activity and mental health issues to a certified team of professionally trained security operators. These operators are available to respond to tips 24/7.

“This is a wonderful way to empower our youth so that they learn they can be the leaders that need to affect their school climate,” said Darlene Cusanza, president and CEO of Crimestoppers GNO. “They can understand how much power they hold by being able to take and use a resource such as the Safe Schools Louisiana app.”

The submitted tips are put through an intense vetting process. Once processed, proper representatives — or emergency safe school teams in appropriate situations — are notified of valid tips. Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley said Safe Schools LA follows best practice procedures for operating anonymous student hotlines, similar to that of the Sandy Hook Promise and Safe to Tell.

“It’s our responsibility to keep our kids safe,” said Lt. Melissa Matey, public affairs supervisor for the Louisiana State Police. “We want everything that a child hears in school to come to us.”

As of Aug. 31, 32 percent of tips have been categorized as bullying, cyber bullying or harassment, 18 percent as vaping, 7 percent as guns, knives or shooting and 7 percent as suicide or suicide threats. Fighting, ditching, drugs and anger issues were also cited at low rates.

Brumley said in the majority of school shootings, someone other than the attacker were aware of the plan beforehand.

“Safe Schools Louisiana is a safe, easy and anonymous way for people who see something to say something,” Brumley said.

The Say It Here app can also serve to prevent teen suicide. Brumley said four out of five teens who attempt suicide indicated clear warning signs of suicidal ideation or intent.

“It’s really important that our students have the ability to report anonymously when something doesn’t seem right or sound right within the context of their local school,” he said.

The Safe Schools Louisiana program is offered to all middle and high schools statewide by Crimestoppers GNO, the Louisiana State Police and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

This system can be implemented in less than two weeks, Brumley said. During the implementation process, an initial memorandum of understanding must be drafted, a school system tip administrative team must be trained and student app training must be completed. School systems can participate at no cost.

The school multidisciplinary teams, which include a representative from law enforcement and a lead mental or behavioral health school leader, will “direct path for intervention on all reported issues, especially if the tip is considered criminal or referencing harm,” Brumley said.

About 40 LA school systems — more than 500 middle and high schools — use Safe Schools LA with the support of the LDOE. There are also 160 schools in the onboarding process.