Homeland Security: How schools can encourage students to say something if they see something

Closeup of Stop Sign on School Bus
Photo: Jill Rose/Pixabay

Two Department of Homeland Security branches released a toolkit this week intended to help school district leaders encourage bystanders to report concerning behavior to prevent violence in schools. 

The resource from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the United States Secret Service comes as there have been 145 shooting incidents at schools this year, with a record number of 303 shooting incidents last year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database.  

The Department of Homeland Security toolkit is intended to help school leaders strengthen community reporting and reporting programs. It offers advice on creating reporting programs and building trust so students know they can report threats of violence or other safety concerns. 

School officials were encouraged to consider what methods students can use to report threats. Of schools with reporting systems, 57% relied on phone reporting, 56% relied on a website and 50% utilized email for reporting, a 2019 survey of middle and high schools found, according to the toolkit.

It also encouraged school leaders to consider anonymous or confidential reporting options. Anonymous reports are still traceable, but those submitting information in those cases do not provide information about their identity. Confidential reports require personal information so analysts can follow up with the reporter.

The toolkit informs district leaders that responding quickly to reported incidents is vital so that reporters see they are taking them seriously. 

“Schools will want to establish policies and protocols that specify which scenarios require law enforcement involvement (e.g., violence, threats, weapons) and which do not (e.g., bullying, depression, self-harm),” the toolkit reads. “Some state statutes related to behavioral threat assessment and reporting mandate that all incoming reports are forwarded to local law enforcement personnel, in addition to relevant district and school personnel.”

The resource also tells administrators that it’s essential for districts to build awareness around reporting programs and to make reporting concerning behavior part of “daily school life.”

“For reporting programs to be a useful tool for intervention and prevention in K-12 schools, students and other members of a reporting community need to be aware of the importance of reporting, their role in reporting, what to report, and any resources that are available when it comes to reporting threats and other concerns,” the toolkit says. 

It recommends basic marketing strategies such as posters with a QR code directing users to an app, phone numbers, and websites; districts could also place a number or link on the backsides of student and staff ID cards. The toolkit says the target audience includes everyone in the school community, from students and teachers to bus drivers and parents. 

While students report threats of violence, the toolkit says, they also report “concerns involving ​​bullying, drug use, self-harm, suicidal ideations and depression.” It encouraged school leaders to promote the reporting of a “broad range of wellness and safety issues.”

Brendan Clarey
Brendan Clarey is K-12 editor at Chalkboard Review. Reach him at bclarey@franklinnews.org.

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