Safe2Say presents time crunch for districts

By Gary Weckselblatt

The state's Safe2Say Something tip line law is proving to be both a time and financial drain on the resources of school districts.

In a presentation to the Quakertown Community School Board on February 28, Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards, the district's safety coordinator, said that while the law under Act 44 is certainly well intentioned, the General Assembly's newest mandate is a hardship as school districts are not built to deal with these issues 24/7/365.

"We are doing our level best to respond appropriately to every tip that comes in and take care of our kids," she said. "But this has been an overwhelming process."

All students in the Sixth Grade Center, Strayer Middle School and Quakertown Community High School have been trained about the anonymous youth violence prevention program, run by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. More than 50 hours of staff time went into implementing the program, which requires district's to set up a team to handle the tips. QCSD's team includes Ms. Edwards, Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner; Dr. Lisa Hoffman, Assistant Superintendent for the Office of Teaching and Learning; Janet Pelone, Director of Pupil Services; and high school Principal Dr. David Finnerty. Ms. Edwards has trained each of the district's principals, who have given presentations to faculty and staff at each school, accounting for more than 500 hours of staff time.

The district has received 58 tips, mostly for bullying, depression or self-harm issues. In the week after student training, Strayer counselors and administrators did nothing else but respond to and investigate tips that came in, she said, adding that "schools are not set up with second and third shift personnel.

"It has been a lot and I would want to recognize our building level administrators and guidance counselors for the amount of time, effort and dedication they have put into helping with each and every child that we've gotten a tip about," Ms. Edwards said.

Quakertown is not alone in its challenges in dealing with the tipline. Centennial School District Superintendent David Baugh said his district has "serious concerns" that "people can say anything about anyone. We're worried about students and teachers being targeted. We're not convinced there's a failsafe in the system."

Dr. Baugh suggested that the General Assembly's "rush to do something is going to make things worse" and said to have district personnel on call "365 days, 24 hours a day, seven days a week is something we don't have the staffing for. We're all for safe schools, and have systems in place for that. This just takes it to a whole different tier."

Dr Harner said the time spent on the tip line has cost QCSD about $75,000 and estimates costs as high as 500K in a school year. Board Member Jonathan Kern said "it's pretty rough to absorb that kind of budget number."

Because of the time drain on personnel, the Board agreed to hire the Bucks County Intermediate Unit to respond to calls from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at a cost of $1 per student from now through June 30. After that, the cost rises to $3 per call for the 2019-20 school year. The BCIU is offering the agreement to county districts.

Ms. Edwards said while some calls have been hoaxes, the new program has illustrated some positives in the Quakertown Community. Many students have reached out because they care about a fellow student or a friend. "That has been really clear, and that's a wonderful thing," she said.

"The other real positive is that as we follow up on these tips, investigate them and go through the process, almost all of them are students that are already connected to help," she said. "Our guidance counselors are already aware that they're struggling with an issue. They already have various supports in place for those students. That tells us that our existing systems are working pretty well, because the vast majority of these students are already being seen as needed and are connected to the support they need."

More information on Safe2Say can be found in the Community Section of the district website at www.qcsd,org.

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].

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