State Legislators Could Reorganize Safe2Tell in 2020

Lawmakers will consider reorganizing Safe2Tell in 2020.EXPAND
Lawmakers will consider reorganizing Safe2Tell in 2020.

A tip line designed to alert schools of safety concerns among students, staff and parents could soon be reorganized.

Today, October 31, an interim school safety committee at the State Capitol advanced a bill that would create a process for routing certain calls to mental health professionals and bolster the annual advertising campaign budget for Safe2Tell. The bill, which will be considered by the full legislature in 2020, would also allow the Colorado Attorney General's Office to disclose to law enforcement information that might prevent immediate harm.

The interim committee, which considered twelve bills and advanced five, killed one that would have allowed law enforcement to obtain search warrants to identify callers who used Safe2Tell improperly, such as to make a false report or harass an operator.

Safe2Tell was created after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, to allow students and school staffers to anonymously report threats. During the 2018-2019 school year, Safe2Tell received approximately 20,000 reports, including 33 from individuals who were in need of crisis intervention or counseling, according to the Colorado Department of Law, which oversees Safe2Tell along with the attorney general. The hotline received 1,503 tips in August 2019 alone, a 75 percent increase over a year.

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"Safe2Tell was created twenty years ago in response to Columbine," explains Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet, the bill's co-sponsor and the interim committee's chair. "At the time, it was a groundbreaking program. As I or my team traveled around the country talking about school safety...this interim, we heard over and over that people were using Safe2Tell but modified how they were doing it. Some may have been getting better responses."

Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat from Commerce City, points to SafeUT, Utah's version of Safe2Tell. While calls made to SafeUT are routed to a crisis counselor, calls made to Safe2Tell are routed to the Colorado Information Analysis Center, which is part of the Department of Public Safety Emergency Management Division. The call center is managed by the AG's office, which routes the calls either to local law enforcement or to "crisis response units."

Michaelson Jenet's bill would make Safe2Tell's first point of contact somebody trained in behavioral health crisis response. "They would do a hand-off to the police if that's not the right response," she says.

"If a student calls Safe2Tell to report a suicide, the number-one use for it, the appropriate response as far as I'm concerned would be for our behavioral health care team set up around the state to be able to deploy someone to a person in crisis," Michaelson Jenet continues. "But if the first answer is by law enforcement, that immediately requires a law enforcement response. It's just not necessarily the appropriate response for a youth in a mental health crisis if we can get a mental health provider to them."

A state audit from September indicated that some of Colorado's school-safety measures are being duplicated or are missing some school districts. It found that Safe2Tell and the School Safety Resource Center, which is part of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, were offering schools training on similar topics, including bullying and mental health, but had not been coordinating their messaging or coverage of districts.

Another bill advanced today would establish a working group of the various agencies that tackle school safety issues to "streamline programs and improve communication across agencies in response to the audit’s findings," according to a statement from the Colorado House Democrats. Other bills that were advanced would bolster mental health training for teachers, allow students to take "behavioral health sick days," and analyze the availability of behavioral health treatment for youth.

“Our goal must be that not one more child dies by violence in school, and we must always strive for this goal as we work to advance solutions that make our classrooms and campuses safer,” Michaelson Jenet says.

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