State Launches Safe School Advice Line | Rutland Reader

A new tip line is the latest tool deployed to help keep Vermont schools safe.

The Vermont School Safety Tip Line was launched earlier this fall by the Department of Public Safety in partnership with the Education Agency.

The hotline – which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week – allows students, educators and community members to anonymously report any “worrying behavior” they observe.

According to the safe4vt.org website, “These tips will help law enforcement, social service providers and school administrators identify threats to the school and coordinate assistance to students and families for services. not requiring an immediate response. “

The rollout is unfortunately timely, as violent incidents in schools are on the rise again this fall after a year of relative calm due to distance and hybrid learning linked to the pandemic.

Last week, a 15-year-old Michigan high school student reportedly shot dead four classmates and injured seven others.

In Vermont, the current academic year has seen a slight increase in disruptive and violent behavior.

VTDigger reported on the situation at several schools in recent days on Wednesday, including threats from students to bring guns to Mount Abraham Union Middle / High School, a school bomb threat Hartford High School and an unspecified threat allegedly made by a student at Twinfield. Union school.

Lt. Shawn Loan is a member of the Vermont State Police and commander of the Vermont Intelligence Center (VIC), which oversees the whistleblower line.

According to its website, VIC’s mission is to “collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence for the purpose of identifying, investigating and preventing criminal activity and protecting citizens and critical infrastructure vital to our society.”

To accomplish this mission, VIC works with various federal entities, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism, US Customs, and border protection.

The whistleblower line, which is funded by a grant from the Bureau of Justice Administration, has been in the works since 2018.

Loan said the pandemic had slowed progress and contributed to what he called a “smooth rollout” to schools this fall.

“We didn’t want to add more stress to the school systems with everything going on,” he said, adding that the volume of calls to the tip line was still somewhat low.

Now operational, Loan said the goal of the whistleblower line is to become the point where people can report their issues and prevent incidents.

“It’s a place where administrators, parents or students can call and get in touch with law enforcement to prevent violence in schools, whether it’s a school shooting. or a significant violent event, “he said.

Tips can be submitted anonymously by phone, text or through an online portal.

While he expects people to use it to report social service needs as well, he said those reports will be passed on to the appropriate entities, such as the Department of Children and Families (DCF ) or VT 211.

Appropriate advice will be reviewed by a team of trained school safety advocates. The team was formed under another grant the state received for the development and implementation of a behavioral threat assessment process.

Credible advice is passed on to local law enforcement, school officials and the governor’s School Safety Council.

Loan said the types of advice people submit could include behaviors in or out of school or on social media. He noted, however, that the whistleblower line is not designed to deal with immediate threats.

“If you have an urgent threat you have to call the police, you have to call 911. Don’t call the whistleblower line,” he said.

Loan said his unit’s data on school threats is incomplete as VIC only started monitoring threats in 2019 and is still analyzing data from the past three years.

Further, he said that VIC currently only collects data from law enforcement and media reports. Collecting data from schools is still a work in progress, he said, explaining that VIC is waiting for schools to overcome the pandemic before adding another responsibility to their plates.

He added that the year 2020 was not a useful data point as so many schools were in blended or distance learning, resulting in an overall drop in incidents.

Along with these warnings, he reported that there were 31 reported school threats in 2021. These threats range from a threatening email to a student threatening to bring a gun to school.

“So the only problem with data is, ‘What’s relevant? I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know if it’s up or down. This is what we are trying to figure out now, ”he said.

Rob Evans, who serves as the School Safety Liaison for the Education Agency and the Department of Public Safety, said school safety is an issue the state has focused on ever since. the Columbine shooting in 1999.

“Clearly Michigan is just another stark reminder of the tragedies, threats and vulnerabilities our schools face every day,” he said.

Safe schools advice lines, he said – which are common across the country – are another useful way for people to submit information.

“We believe that the best practice is to have a variety of modalities so that people can talk about concerns they may have about behaviors or activities that may have a negative impact on our schools,” he said. declared.

Evans said analysis of past violence in schools has shown perpetrators often show warning signs before committing an act.

“If we are able to connect these dots before these things happen, then obviously there is potential to prevent them from happening in the first place,” he said.

Connecting those dots is what prevented a tragedy at Fair Haven Union High School in 2018 when law enforcement was informed that a former student allegedly discussed plans to carry out an attack on the school.

Loan and Evans both pointed out that this threat was, at least in part, the impetus for the whistleblower line.

That experience still resonates with Brooke Olsen-Farrell, Superintendent of the Slate Valley Unified Union School District, who oversees the FHUHS.

Olsen-Farrell represents the superintendents of the Vermont School Crisis Planning Team, which assesses threats and provides advice for emergency preparedness at K-12 schools, including the hotline.

In light of the Michigan shooting and increasing incidents and threats locally, she said school administrators she spoke to were on edge.

“They are naturally nervous and want to make sure that they are doing everything they can as a school administrator and as a school district to help prevent these types of incidents,” she said.

Olsen-Farrell noted that the pandemic disruptions of the past 18 months have resulted in a number of students being deregulated and in need of mental health support, which has been exacerbated by the lack of staff to meet those needs.

While Slate Valley is not immune to these issues, she said it didn’t matter what she saw – a fact she attributed to the fact that district schools weren’t far away there. ‘last year.

“We certainly have an escalation in minor disruptive behavior, but we don’t necessarily see it with hazing, harassment and intimidation and an increased need for threat assessment,” she said.

She added that SV has also been very attentive to school safety since the situation in 2018.

“We have a pretty intense behavioral threat assessment process whenever a concern is raised,” she said.

As a member of the School Crisis Planning Team, she encourages other schools to adopt behavioral threat assessment processes. She also argued that prevention requires community partnerships and vigilance.

“When we have concerns about student safety, we really need to take a collaborative approach with our community partners. It is really everyone’s responsibility to keep our children and our schools safe, ”she said.

Advice to the Vermont Schools Safety Advice Line can be submitted at safe4vt.org online, by calling 844-SAFE4VT (723-3488) or by texting “SAFE4VT” to 274637.

jim.sabataso @ rutlandherald.com


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