Dracut schools roll out anonymous safety reporting system

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DRACUT — When safety concerns arise at Richardson Middle School and Dracut High School, parents, students and staff can now alert officials anonymously.

The School Department this month became one of the first school systems in the state to adopt an anonymous reporting platform offered by Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization led by family members whose loved ones were killed in a 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

According to Superintendent Steven Stone, the schools have been participating in programs through Sandy Hook Promise for about two years, including the Start With Hello program, which emphasizes creating a “culture of inclusion” in schools, and the Say Something program, which encourages students to recognize and look for warning signs and bring their concerns to a trusted adult.

The new anonymous system falls under the latter program, providing a channel for those who might not be comfortable speaking to an adult if they believe someone may plan to harm themselves or others.

“We’ve had a number of instances where students have come to the administration with concerns about a social media post or something someone said, and they’ve shared it with adults, which is exactly what should be happening. So from that perspective it’s gone very well and our students have taken all of this very seriously,” Stone said. “This is the newest part of this; it’s building on that Say Something program.”

Anonymous tips can now be submitted through a hotline, website or mobile app. They’re then routed to a trained crisis team of mental health professionals, Stone said, who reach out the person or people the concern pertains to and evaluate whether it’s life threatening or non-life threatening. The next step is for the information to be relayed to the appropriate local entities, including school officials and the local police department if necessary.

According to Aimee Thunberg, communications director for Sandy Hook Promise, the anonymous reporting platform is currently being used by only 12 schools across the state.

Dracut Police Chief Peter Bartlett said the system will help streamline the process of addressing safety concerns for police, as tips are evaluated before being forwarded to them.

“I think the earlier we get the information to different stakeholders that can deal with whatever information it happens to be, the better off that we are,” Bartlett said. “Because we’re all looking for the same goal: we all want the students, faculty and staff to be as safe as possible and try and mitigate issues so they don’t rise to any type of level of violence.”

Stone emphasized that the reporting system is one piece of a holistic approach to promoting school safety, which includes physical infrastructure improvements, social-emotional learning initiatives and a school resource officer program.

“It’s all tied together,” Stone said. “If we have a community where it is easier for people to communicate in a positive way and can understand their emotions and direct them in the appropriate manner, along with all of the safety things, that’s the best way to approach safety.”

The Dracut Police Department staffs three school resource officers who work on a rotating schedule, so two officers are always on duty in the schools, Bartlett said. Their focus is understanding the school culture and creating relationships with students, faculty and staff to help address issues before they escalate.

The new reporting system will help support that process, he said.

“If somebody is identified as being problem or the problem identifies the students, the officers should have a working knowledge or understanding of the student body and maybe who that person already is,” Bartlett said.

Without the reporting platform, which is offered by Sandy Hook Promise at no cost to schools, it likely wouldn’t be financially or logistically possible for Dracut Public Schools to create its own mechanism for anonymous tips, Stone said. Along with the system itself, the nonprofit organization provided training for students in the schools this month.

“From my perspective, the piece that is the most difficult to really address is the things that we’re talking about about Sandy Hook (Promise),” Stone said. “That human component that people are looking out for each other, people are listening, people are aware that people may say things online and it’s important to get that information out to us.”

Additional information about the reporting system is available at www.saysomething.net.