Statewide school threat reporting system considered

Nebraska would broaden an existing school safety pilot program under a bill considered Feb. 9 by the Education Committee.

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.

Williams said the bill is modeled after a successful pilot program in Douglas County, called Safe2Help Nebraska. Under that program, trained professionals staff a help line located at Boys Town, he said, which is available to all 80 schools in the county.

The pilot program logged 470 reports including suicide threats, drug use, bullying, mental health issues and threats against property, Williams said, and diverted 81 percent of the resulting contacts away from law enforcement interaction.

Similarly, information provided through the report line under LB322 would go directly to individuals trained in crisis management, he said, rather than directly to law enforcement.

“The intent, obviously, is to reduce the risk or thwart incidents of targeted violence — including harm to self, harm to others or harm to school property,” Williams said. “When it comes to keeping kids safe, there’s no such thing as having too many helpful resources and the pilot program has been a lifesaving partnership.”

The reporting system — to be named the Safe2HelpNE report line — would allow students, school staff, parents and community members to report concerns and information about a threat or possible harm to people or property anonymously and without charge by telephone call, text, mobile app, website or email.

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.

LB322 states legislative intent to appropriate money from the state General Fund for the Safe2HelpNE report line 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.

Williams noted the potential cost of the program — estimated in the bill’s fiscal note as $899,000 per year — which he said is the equivalent of approximately $2.50 per student.

“I would challenge all of us to think about it that way,” he said. “I don’t think we can afford not to do this.”

Jolene Palmer, state school security director for the Nebraska Department of Education, testified in support of the bill. The pilot program is unique, she said, because its focus is on diverting students away from law enforcement involvement.

Palmer said the proposed statewide program would not be mandatory but would be available for any school that wishes to use it.

“Research tells us that threat assessment is one of the most effective, evidence-based practices in preventing targeted violence against people — against self, others and property,” she said.

Bill Jelkin, director of student services for Millard Public Schools, also testified in support, saying he’s been with the school system since 2010. The pilot program has done a “phenomenal job” of triaging crisis situations, he said, and the bill would bring that service to students across the state.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been involved in hundreds of family crisis and threat situations over those years,” Jelkin said. “I cannot go into details about those situations, but what I can tell you is that the Safe2Help hotline system works.”

Mark Adler, superintendent of Ralston Public Schools, testified about his son, Reid, who committed suicide at age 15 in 2016. He said Reid spoke with several friends the night he died, all of whom thought that they had talked him into a better place and did not contact an adult.

Adler said he believed that his son could have been saved if something like the Safe2Help system were in place at the time.

“The ripple effect of grief is tremendous,” Adler said. “The day Reid left, a part of all of us went with him and will never be replaced.”

No one testified in opposition to LB322 and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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