Statewide school safety reporting system advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 11 to a bill that would broaden an existing school safety pilot program.

Sen. Matt Williams
Sen. Matt Williams

LB322, sponsored by Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams, would require the state Department of Education to establish a statewide, anonymous reporting system to support threat assessment teams with the goal of reducing violent incidents.

The reporting system — to be named the Safe2HelpNE report line — would allow students, school staff, parents and community members to report information about concerning behavior or possible harm to people or property anonymously and free of charge by telephone, mobile app, website or email.

“National statistics show that in most school incidents — in fact [in] over 80 percent of violent school incidents — someone has leaked the information prior to the actual incident,” Williams said. “Safe2HelpNE will give Nebraska schools a tool to receive that information and safely help someone before a tragedy occurs.”

He said the bill is modeled after a successful pilot program in Douglas County that
logged 470 reports including suicide threats, drug use, bullying, mental health issues and threats against property. He said that 81 percent of the resulting contacts were diverted away from law enforcement interaction.

Similarly, information provided through the report line under LB322 would go directly to individuals trained in crisis management, Williams said, rather than directly to law enforcement. The report line would be available to any public or nonpublic school that has a threat assessment team and maintains a current list of contact information for at least five team members designated to receive alerts from report line staff 24/7.

Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz supported the bill, which she said reflects a top state priority of student and teacher safety by helping to identify potential crisis situations.

“Equally important, it makes it possible for us to then provide the necessary wrap-around services and supports to kids who might not otherwise get the help that they need,” Walz said. “I’m confident that it’s a bill that will save lives and keep our schools safe.”

Sen. Mike Groene of Norfolk opposed the bill, which he said could have long-term repercussions for young people based on anonymous accusations that may not be accurate.

“This could follow a kid his entire life,” Groene said.

LB322 would appropriate $899,000 in general funds for the reporting system in fiscal year 2021-22 and FY22-23. The bill includes intent language that the Legislature would fund the system for ten years. At the end of that time, the department would report cost-benefit data and recommendations to the Legislature regarding the continued viability of the report line.

Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman expressed concern over the annual cost and the long-term commitment of state dollars.

“We’re adding to the base of our spending because we have all the CARES Act money and all the revenue that we have today … and then we move forward a year or two and when the economy changes and we have no more CARES [Act] money, then we’ve established a base that we may not be able to fund,” Erdman said.

Williams acknowledged the cost of the program, which he said is the equivalent of approximately $2 per student, and said he would continue to look for alternative funding sources.

“That’s less than a gallon of gas; less than a gallon of milk; less than one lunch at the school on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s easy to talk about dollars and cents … with this bill, I would prefer to talk about dollars and sense.”

Following the 35-4 adoption of an Education Committee amendment that made a series of technical changes, senators advanced LB322 to select file on a 33-5 vote.

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