Apr 23, 2024
DENVER Safe2Tell, Colorados youth-centered harm prevention and intervention resource, is making a difference in preventing tragedies like the one that happened at Columbine High School 25 years ago from happening again despite seeing a record-number of reports within the past year, according to the Colorado Attorney General.The idea behind Safe2Tell began in the months after a fateful spring day on April 20, 1999, as Colorado along with the rest of the country tried to make sense of what had happened at Columbine. In the months following the shooting, state policy makers began studying the causes of violence and possible prevention programs to make sure that what happened at the school didnt happen again.After Columbine, people asked a lot of questions; what could we have done that might have helped save these lives? said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser in a recent interview with Denver7. One answer is, have a trusted, available anonymous source, so that anyone who knows anything can say something.Colorado was lucky to already be making some headway into possible solutions, thanks to the work of Del Elliott, the founding director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at CU Boulder. He, along with Ken Salazar, the current U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Colorados then-Attorney General, began work on a Safe Communities Safe Schools initiative, traveling to every county across the state to get insight on how to make communities safer in the aftermath of what was then the deadliest mass shooting at a school in the United States, according to a 2009 report on the history of Safe2Tell from the Colorado Trust.Anonymity quickly emerged as a vital component of any school safety program, the report states. Without anonymity to report a troubled peer, Salazar noted, students would fear being the targets of retaliation.It would be two years after the tragedy at Columbine, with the release of the final report of the Columbine Review Commission, mandated by then-Governor Bill Owens, for the idea behind Safe2Tell to take hold. It would then be another two years after that, in 2003, for the Colorado Trust to be awarded a $375,000 grant to establish Safe2Tell, which officially began on Sept. 14, 2004.Safe2Tell was founded on the idea that prevention and early intervention is the key to preventing violence and saving lives, according to Kathy Morris, the director of School Safety and Security for Durango Schools.Among the guiding principles of the program, Morris said, are educating young people and school staff on critical issues, encouraging them to play a role in prevention by adopting a version of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)s if you see something, say something slogan, and making sure they have the tools to make anonymous reports all while empowering students, teachers and staff to make a difference.A decade since its inception and now under the purview of the Colorado Attorney Generals Office, Safe2Tell is a resource that we know is getting used, and we know it's saving lives, Weiser told Denver7.As of April 16, 2024, Safe2Tell had received 164,896 reports since the program began in 2024. Nearly 2% of the total was reported in February of this year alone, when Safe2Tell revealed it had received its highest number of reports in its entire history, according to data from the nonprofit.The last several years we've been receiving over around 20,000 reports a year, Weiser said. This year, we're actually 30% above last year.Reports to Safe2Tell about bullying in schools and suicidal ideations from students across Colorado rank high year after year, Weiser said, with suicide threats being the most frequently reported category made throughout the 2022-2023 school year, according to the programs latest annual report.While those two rank among the top types of reports made to Safe2Tell each year, data for the current school year shows that so far in 2024, school complaints have been the top category across Colorado schools, a trend we are seeing nationally as well, according to Safe2Tell Director Stacey Jenkins.The program is also seeing an over 30% increase in reporting this school year over last, a spokesperson with the Colorado Attorney Generals Office said in an email, which they attributed, in part, to greater awareness about the program.It is unfortunate that we're seeing so many reports coming in about students who are thinking about suicide, who are reporting that they've been bullied, Weiser said. It has never been harder to be a young person than it is today. But I've seen some real glimmers of hope in the fight for youth mental health recently.Along that front, Safe2Tell has expanded its number of school ambassadors to help bring greater awareness about what the program does and how it can help schools and keep communities safer. Safe2Tells Ambassador Program, which started in 2021 with only four school districts represented across the state, has doubled in size and now comprises 12 student ambassadors across eight school districts, including schools in Denver, Boulder, the Western Slope and Weld County.It's really hard to put a price on the value of Safe2Tell because we're saving lives, Weiser told Denver7 when asked about the cost to taxpayers each year the program is in place, explaining how Safe2Tell was used to prevent a potentially deadly incident at school after a student brought a knife on campus. In that sense, we know this is an extraordinary investment and it can't work alone.Other potential incidents that have been prevented thanks to students reporting concerns through Safe2Tell include a student who was arrested after threatening to harm peers at their school once police found they possessed guns; a student who started receiving counseling services after writing a message on school bleachers which included threats of a planned school attack; a student who had to be taken to a hospital after ingesting "an excessive number of pills" due to symptoms of depression, among others. TO MAKE A REPORT THROUGH SAFE2TELL: Call 1-877-542-7233 from anywhere, at any time. Reports also can be made at Safe2Tell.org, by texting S2TCO to 738477, or through the Safe2Tell mobile app which is available on the Apple App Store or Google Play.The attorney general said thats the reason why Safe2Tell not only needs students and teachers to say something if they see something or as Safe2Tell phrases it, if you see something harmful, say something helpful but also school safety experts committed to an environment of safety in schools, as well as trained professionals who know how to respond to different sorts of threats.Part of that training includes getting law enforcement involved, as well as school resource officers, school administrators, and school mental health counselors, so that they know about Safe2Tell and how the program works. The training has to happen regularly because of the turnover in these professions, Weiser said.We make sure to give that training in-person, virtually, consistently, so people know about this resource, they're ready to work with us as a partner, and they even will use it themselves proactively, he said.Still, more work needs to be done, according to Safe2Tells annual report. Per student ambassadors, some areas of improvement include educating more people (like teachers) about the program, curating a positive digital presence, doubling down on sharing tools to improve school culture around Safe2Tell, and continuing to empower students and communities to use Safe2Tell for safety concerns.When it comes to preventing tragedies like what happened at Columbine 25 years ago, is Safe2Tell doing its job?We know that there are planned attacks on schools that are stopped because of Safe2Tell, Weiser told Denver7, as he explained how Safe2Tell was used to prevent a tragedy in Steamboat Springs in the fall of 2022 that could have ended similar to Columbine. We have gotten information about planned attacks, we have shared that with school leaders and with law enforcement, and so we're making a difference, he added.Underscoring how important Safe2Tell is as school safety is not going away as an issue, Weiser said that while the state has created a program to help prevent events like Columbine, its up to Coloradans to make sure something like that never happens again.We in Colorado are at our best when we're supporting one another. What has made Safe2Tell successful and what we need are concerned, committed citizens who take the time to say something when they know something, Weiser said. And the fact that we've heard again and again multiple reports of the same threat coming in, that's an example that people are responding to this imperative: That we look out for one another.Editor's note: If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can dial 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24/7, visit Colorado Crisis Services, or click here for a list of resources in Colorado.
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