COLORADO SPRINGS — We continue to learn about the impact the pandemic has had on our lives. Now, we're learning there are concerns about the impact it's having on the Safe2Tell program designed to help keep our students safe.
Since 2004 the Safe2Tell program has received more than 88,000 tips helping to address school threats and safety issues impacting our students. The program lets students, teachers, and others anonymously report a threat to life, with dispatchers standing by around the clock who are ready to alert the authorities if needed.
But the pandemic delayed school openings and sent many school districts into distance learning practices, which officials say has impacted the number of tips Safe2Tell is getting.
From August 2020 to the end of February 2021 Safe2Tell received 6,751 tips. That's a 58% decrease compared to this time last school year. Despite the overall decrease in tips, suicide threats continue to be the top issue reported to the program.
The founder of Safe2Tell and Colorado's attorney general are concerned.
"I don't think the numbers are reflective of the issues facing young people. I think if anything they have gone up and we really need to be strategic in focusing on prevention and preparedness as they return back to a more normal school environment," said Susan Payne, the founder of Safe2Tell.
"Notable, 30-percent or so rises in teens coming in with mental health acute issues. At a time when people are going to hospitals less for physical health care, we are seeing marked rises in mental health issues. Sometimes these issues can become life or death issues. If you know someone and they are talking about taking their own life, Safe2Tell is a place you can do something about it," said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
The Safe2Tell Program Director noted the impact in an annual report saying...
"Safe2Tell historically experiences a decrease in tip volume during planned school breaks, but the March, April, and May 2020 reductions were the first of its kind since the program was brought into the Colorado Department of Law in 2014."
But threats to the safety of students are still out there, both in an on campus and virtual learning environment.
"We just need to adapt to telling young people, if you're on a Zoom meeting, or a virtual classroom and you see someone who just does not seem like themselves, there's something that's just not right, or on some social media platform, please let someone know. Maybe that is a trusted adult and maybe the backup plan is to make a report to Safe2Tell," said Payne.
One of the areas hundreds of reports have come in about is cyberbullying and Colorado's attorney general is working to address it.
"We're now at the supreme court arguing that schools should be able to do something about this cyber-harassment. There is a lower court decision that would disable schools from dealing with cyber-harassment issues. We believe it's important at Safe2Tell to be able to address some issues," said Weiser.
The Safe2Tell program stands to serve students both on campus and in a virtual learning environment. You can submit an anonymous tip 24/7 by calling 1-877-542-7233, or by visiting safe2tell.org, or using the mobile app.
To find out more about the program and what kinds of reports can be made through it, visit safe2tell.org
If you'd like to take a look at the results of the program and statistics provided to the state, you can find that information here: https://safe2tell.org/results