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School Safety Technology Evolving to Keep Up With Threats

School threats aren't new, but their dispersal through technology has necessitated innovations to catch culprits. Pennsylvania's Safe2Say Something tip line, for example, has received nearly 83,000 tips since early 2019.

(TNS) — Threats of violence in schools are not a new trend, but they are being dealt with swiftly and with more openness by an increasing number of Valley school administrators.

In mid-October, the Midd-West School District announced it had caught a 13-year-old middle school student bringing a gun and ammunition to the middle school. The student was charged with a crime and later expelled.

Days later, a Mifflinburg Middle School student was charged with making verbal threats to a school.

In January, a Milton Area Middle School student was charged after threatening to bring a gun to school, prompting the district to close for a day.

On Wednesday, all schools in the Danville Area School District were evacuated due to a threat. It was the second time this school year that a threat disrupted student learning in the district.

Many of the threats were reported through the Pennsylvania's Safe2Say Something tip line, an anonymous way for the public to report unsafe activities involving students.

Joey Melvin, director of the Center for Safe Schools who works with districts across Pennsylvania, said threats involving students are a nationwide issue that has been happening for decades.

"It's certainly not new, but what has changed is technology," he said. "Twenty years ago, threats were made from a pay phone. Now it's with social media."

Melvin said he advises school administrators to be transparent with the public whenever crises arise.

"Communication has to be swift and it has to be something," he said of his recommendation that administrators provide prompt and useful information to the public.

The Safe2Say call center is a unique and "tremendous" tool in Pennsylvania, Melvin said.

It also helps spur reports of violence, he said, and is part of the reason for the cluster of violent reports in districts.

"Kids are hearing rumors and they're fearful, so they're doing what we want and calling in reports," Melvin said.

Nearly 83,000 tips have been called in to the Safe2Say center run by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General since January 2019. Last year, the tip line received 26,174 calls, including 4,062 reports of bullying; 1,633 threats against a school and 1,053 false reports or pranks.

Milton Superintendent John Bickhart is a proponent of promptly informing the public about threats after experiencing violent incidents early in his career as an educator in Washington, D.C., beginning with the 9-11 terroristic attacks in 2001 and the sniper attacks in the city the following year that killed 10 people.

"The first six deaths (in the sniper attacks) were on the street in our school district," he said.

Bickhart and Milton police were quick to release information about the most recent threat in the district. Even with Safe2Say reports coming in overnight, officials alerted the school community in the early morning hours that school would be closed that day.

Midd-West Superintendent Joe Stroup has also been responsive to the community during times of crisis and the school board has supported enhancing security efforts by adding two officers this year to work with police chief Paul Mall Jr., who found the gun and ammunition allegedly thrown in a bathroom trash bin by a student in October. The three officers rotate around the Middleburg campus and West Snyder Elementary School in Beaver Springs.

The hiring of two new officers is freeing up principals' time to handle the two to three reports that are coming in from the Safe2Say tip line each week, Stroup said of calls that include claims of bullying, violence, drug use and self-harm.

"They come in at all times of day," he said.

Milton Area School District has three officers and is considering adding a fourth, which Bickhart said not only boosts security on campus but is helping develop positive relationships between students and law enforcement.

Maintaining a safe atmosphere for students to be educated is the primary goal of all school administrators, teachers and staff, said Bickhart who has ideas for building more safety nets by adding a therapeutic dog and drug K-9 in the district.

"Schools are the hub of a community and ultimately students are safe there," he said.

©2023 The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.