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DPI aims to ‘prevent one student’s issues from becoming a school tragedy’

State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced on Thursday that an anonymous school reporting app will now be available to all middle schoolers and high schoolers in the state to help get students involved with safety in their schools.

The app, called Say Something and developed in partnership with the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, will allow students and parents to submit anonymous reports of suspicious, inappropriate, or criminal activity. Developed with the primary focus of preventing school shootings, like what happened at Butler High School last year, the app will also allow students to report bullying, fighting, or criminal behavior.

“It is imperative that parents can drop their students off to school knowing that they will go to a safe, warm, inviting environment,” Johnson said. “That is our top priority here … making sure that we address the root cause of these problems and we prevent one student’s issues from becoming a school tragedy.”

Johnson said that begins with providing the proper resources, citing training given to the districts and school resource officers. Johnson also pointed to the importance of preventative measures, such as methods for addressing the root cause of school safety issues, including by providing mental health resources in the form of mental health support in the schools and in the community.

For the past year, however, the Department of Public Instruction has been busy readying another initiative, he said, speaking of the Say Something app.

At the announcement, Sandy Hook Promise co-founder Nicole Hockley, whose first grade son was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, said she hopes the app will help prevent the tragedy she experienced.

“This gives kids the power to look after themselves and look after each other,” she said. “It teaches them how to recognize at-risk signs in their peers and be able to get an intervention — be able to get that person help before it escalates into something else. It’s not just about school shootings. … This will help bullying, this will help cutting, this will help suicide attempts and ideation, this will help with sexual abuse, dating violence, drug abuse. It’s a wide spectrum of at-risk behaviors that students are going to be trained on what to look for and then how to call 911, tell a trusted adult, or use the anonymous reporting system.”

State lawmakers set aside $5 million last year to help develop the app for North Carolina and obtain licenses for all districts to have access to the safety resources. The cost for the resource, which includes creating a command center staff in the state and collaboration with a national command center in Miami, is $650,000 per year. 

Every submission will be anonymous, and every submission will be followed up on — including, when appropriate, by law enforcement.

“This app will allow us to participate more closely and more intimately in the things that are happening in our school,” Richmond County Sheriff James “Clem” Clemmons said. “Any tools that we can have to better secure our schools for our children and for our staff that works there is going to be a plus.” 

North Carolina is only the second state to adopt the resource in all districts, but nationwide the app is used in 310 districts. Last year, six North Carolina districts— in Wayne, Forsyth, Macon, Avery, Johnston and Lenoir Counties — piloted the program in all or some of their schools. During the pilot, 39% of the tips were for bullying, 25% were for drugs, and the rest were about fighting, weapons, and underage drinking.

Johnson said this resource can be used in tandem with existing programs various districts might already have implemented — such as social media monitoring and centralized hotlines.

“This is going to be a powerful tool to allow students to play that critical role in helping to keep schools safe,” Johnson said. 

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.