After two years of use in Pennsylvania schools, it’s safe to say that the state-sponsored Safe2Say Something app is helping to protect students in Beaver County.
The app, run through the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office at a cost of $1.6 million annually, was implemented in 2019 and provides a safe way for students to anonymously report threats or unsafe activities. While area districts have had some issues with false reporting, county and school officials say it’s saving lives.
“The first year when it was open and available to the students, it got kind of misused,” said Bo Blinn, the school resource officer for the Beaver Area School District. “A lot of the investigations we went through came out to be kind of unfounded because they weren’t legitimate.”
In 2019, he said about 50 Safe2Say reports were investigated by his office and many of them were revenge-based tips made up by students as a result of bad break-ups or fights between friends. Though school data only shows six confirmed instances of false reports out of 79 total reports, Beaver Area Superintendent Carrie Rowe agreed and said that in the past students often used the app as a form of retaliation.
“At first, (students) were using it for things that shouldn’t have been going to a crisis center,” she said of Safe2Say, which is available to students on every district iPad.
All tips through the app are initially sent to a crisis center in Harrisburg and redirected to their associated school districts if a serious threat is reported. The problem is, if those threats aren’t real, resources get wasted on them.
“At times, depending on what’s reported, (false reporting) definitely could tie up a good bit of resources, a good bit of time, and that’s why it was so frustrating last year…when it ended up being a revenge type thing,” Blinn said. “Because, even if it’s false, you have to take it seriously and investigate it fully.”
False reporting has been an issue across the commonwealth.
In separate instances last month, false threats reported through Safe2Say caused two districts in Bucks County, Upper Bucks Technical School and Quakertown School District, to move online.
Luckily, nothing like that has happened in Beaver County. Still, some false reporting exists in area schools.
While there can be consequences for false reporting, local officials said they’d rather receive a few illegitimate tips if it means legitimate ones continue to get through.
“We’ve had a lot of false reporting,” Blinn said, “but…we still want people who feel there’s something legitimately wrong…to report it and not have to worry about (getting in trouble if they’re wrong).”
With no instances of false reports at Beaver this year, prank and deliberately misleading reporting may no longer be much of an issue for schools in the county.
“We’ve only had a few (false reports),” said Nick Perry, superintendent of the Central Valley School District, of the 36 total Safe2Say reports his school has seen since the app’s inception.
The county district attorney’s office investigates criminal activity reported through Safe2Say, and Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier said that truth is the trend across the county.
“We have not had a serious problem with false claims,” he said.
His office investigated 70 Safe2Say reports in 2019 and 33 in 2020, and Lozier said the vast majority of them were made from students struggling with real issues.
That seems to be the case statewide.
According to the Safe2Say Something annual report for the 2019-20 academic year, there were 23,745 good tips made on the app, compared to only 1,261 false and prank tips.
Data from the previous year tells a similar story.
Of tens of thousands of legitimate tips, only 1,300 were false, according to the attorney general’s office report for 2018-19.
So, what are students reporting?
“Kids will report a lot of types of different things,” said Blinn. “Sometimes it will be mental and physical abuse at home or somebody said something to somebody that they thought may have been threatening.”
But those aren’t the most common reports.
Perry said students at Central Valley most commonly report suicidal ideation, cutting, self-harm, bullying/cyberbullying, fighting and inappropriate…