News & Media

State AG’s office must communicate more effectively about school threat reporting program [editorial

01/17/2019 Lancaster Online By Editorial Board

THE ISSUE

Local school officials told LNP’s Alex Geli that the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General’s communications about Safe2Say Something — a new school threat reporting system — were “insufficient.” The system, which went live Monday, allows educators, students, parents and community members to submit anonymous tips about potential threats. Safe2Say includes an app available on Apple and Android devices, a website (safe2sayPA.org) and a 24-hour hotline (1-844-SAF2SAY, or 1-844-723-2729). Tips are to be reviewed by the state attorney general’s office and forwarded to schools and, if necessary, local police to help prevent school violence. All public and private schools in the commonwealth must participate in the system.

In our experience, Penn Manor School District Superintendent Mike Leichliter is a level-headed guy who’s not prone to gratuitous criticism.

If he says the implementation of Safe2Say “has not been clear and seamless,” we’re inclined to believe him.

Leichliter told Geli he attended a regional training session in December with hundreds of other educators at the Lancaster County Convention Center in downtown Lancaster. It was Leichliter’s impression that the training team was overwhelmed by the number of attendees; the session began late; and the Safe2Say app and website weren’t ready, so a demo site was used.

Not ideal.

Leichliter said those who attended the training session were left wondering what procedures they were supposed to follow, how they should train students and faculty, and how they should promote the program.

Other Lancaster County school officials expressed concern with what they saw as a lack of direction from the state attorney general’s office.

State Sen. Scott Martin, of Martic Township, co-sponsored the legislation that included Safe2Say and other school safety measures. He told Geli he also heard concerns about the program’s implementation and questions about who was responsible for training whom.

In a letter sent Friday to state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Martin and state House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler expressed disappointment over reports that “so many entities are still not on the same page and/or not yet trained.”

An organization called Sandy Hook Promise provided the training.

That is an admirable nonprofit — it was founded by some of the family members of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

Its website said it has trained more than 3.5 million students and adults across the U.S. on the warning signs of school violence and suicide. But it also said its partnership with Pennsylvania would be the first in which it would provide its expertise to all of a state’s school districts.

Educators attend training sessions all of the time. They know what a well-run session looks like. They recognize the problems with one that’s oversubscribed.

Brian Barnhart, executive director of Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, said his organization hasn’t been utilized by the attorney general’s office — which is a shame, because training educators is part of what an intermediate unit does.

Barnhart said he offered to host the regional training at IU13’s New Holland Avenue headquarters — for free — but Sandy Hook Promise opted instead for the convention center.

“It’s been frustrating, but we’re committed to make it work and to help,” he said.

That, of course, should be everyone’s mantra, because nothing is more important than making our schools safer.

Some school officials already were concerned that Safe2Say might slow down local response to tips — adding an extra level of bureaucracy between the schools and local law enforcement.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said last year he’d been assured that the state attorney general’s office will pass along tips immediately.

This must happen. And the state attorney general’s office needs to improve communications with the educators it’s relying on to make Safe2Say an essential tool in the effort to prevent school violence.

Joe Grace, spokesman for Attorney General Shapiro, told Geli that school superintendents received written information about the program, and that the attorney general's office will “have a lot more to say about this really important initiative in the coming days and weeks to come.”

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Let’s hope that it’s days, rather than weeks, because Safe2Say is going to be effective only if people know about it, and know how to use it.

We don’t have the luxury here of relying on trial and error — because error can have terrible consequences.

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