A safer school

The Safe2help app helps create secure communities

Students+are+able+to+access+Safe2Help+through+their+phone+or+computer.+In+the+short+time+since+the+website+and+app+aired%2C+it+has+already+been+utilized+by+those+in+the+Douglas+County+community.

Photo by Kaitlyn Willard

Students are able to access Safe2Help through their phone or computer. In the short time since the website and app aired, it has already been utilized by those in the Douglas County community.

By Kaitlyn Willard, Millard West High School

During January of 2020, the 180 schools across Douglas County held a kick-off at the Omaha Police Department as they celebrated the beginning of the new Safe2Help Hotline. 

This new hotline is for communities within Douglas County. The Safe2help can be accessed on the interweb or on an app. From there, anyone is able to report a tip anonymously or identified. There is also an authorized mental health specialist on a 24-hour text or call hotline that is available for those in need.

“I think any tool you have to promote safety in our schools and in our community is an essential tool,” Millard Public School Superintendent Jim Sutfin said. “I think this tool enables parents to know there is a way of reporting quickly and that there is a way of getting an intermediate response. In a world where sometimes things get tangled up in bureaucracy, this is one of those things that we were able to cut through it and get to the surface level. The fact that there is a trained mental health expert on the other end of that app should give us all great peace.”

From a 24 hour pager to the Boystown Hotline, Millard wanted there to be licensed help for students in need. Starting with Millard, other districts began to partner with Boystown as well. For the past year and a half, meetings took place to create a new hotline that could be inclusive to all districts across Douglas County. Safe2help is also more interactive with administrators as they are able to check up on their students who reported.

“Students are more connected across their community today than they’ve ever been,” Sutfin said. “Being able to have a threat of self-harm or a threat against the school, we can now easily communicate with other schools in Douglas County. Sometimes, it is better to have the synergy of everybody because it will make it more connected and the more connected we can be around school safety and around mental health issues, the better we will serve our students and their parents.”

Not only were there multiple districts behind the workings of this app, but those around the community helped to ensure the launch of this app would bring success. The OPD is directly connected to the hotline for emergencies. In any case of self-harm or harm to others, the police will be noted and will take action. In addition, the mayor and multiple philanthropic groups brought in many contributions to and support this hotline. It was important the Douglas County community would become involved as it would allow for maximum support and resources for students and parents alike.

“Specifically when it comes to threats, you don’t want people operating in silos,” Millard Director of Student Services Bill Jelkin said. “If the Millard Public Schools are handling all of our threat business and we aren’t communicating out to other agencies, then they’re not aware of some of the issues that we’re facing and we’re not aware of some of the services they could provide to help with our issues. When you hear about all the things happening in the community, it helps us become more vigilant and more aware of some of the issues in the community and thus be more prepared for them. That’s the point of the collaboration. We’re all working together and not separately.”

Safe2Help doubles as an app and a website making it easily accessible for students and parents alike. Reporters are able to fill out a tip form and users can review or update existing tips. In addition, there is the option of simply calling the hotline and talking to a counselor. 

“I think oftentimes people in our society see something and they don’t want to report it because they either don’t want to hurt their friend’s feelings or they don’t want to get too involved in it,” Sutfin said. “This enables people to keep their anonymity and still get the report out. I love the fact that on the app you can actually upload a screenshot so the evidence and information are there. It protects the person who is doing the reporting.”

With the rise of social media and cyberbullying, conflict is not always visible in person. Bullying can be done over the phone. Safe2help has a feature where reporters can upload a picture, whether that be a screenshot or a picture of the issue.

“We know there is a lot of cyberbullying and a lot of bullying that doesn’t get reported,” Millard West Principal Dr. Greg Tiemann said. “I think there are some occasions where somebody doesn’t want to report their name because they don’t want it coming back on them being the one that made the tip. This allows people to conceal their identity and let us know that something is going on.”

While the hotline is still in its infancy, students and parents have already utilized the app. The long term goal is for students to feel safe in their school and have resources always available.

“Millard just like any other community is just that it is a community,” Sutfin said. “When we can all work together and when we can all be in unison in protecting and caring for each other we have a chance to make it a community where everyone wants to feel involved and feel a part of. This app can help us when a student isn’t feeling like a part of our community and this can help us help them.”

To publicize the Safe2help app, posters can be seen around schools and incoming students and parents will be notified in years to come.

This story was originally published on The Catalyst on February 28, 2020.