A promising new program promoting school safety in Pennsylvania is off to a rocky start.
Come Monday, educators, students, parents and community members will be allowed to submit anonymous tips through a new threat reporting system called Safe2Say, which will include an an app available on Apple and Android devices, a website and a 24-hour hotline.
Tips will be reviewed by the state attorney general’s office and forwarded to schools and, if necessary, local police to help ward off school violence.
Participation is required by all public and private schools in the state, according to the legislation, which was signed into law in June.
But many Lancaster County school officials here say they’re concerned with the lack of direction from the AG’s office, which enlisted the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise to provide training statewide, between then and now.
‘Implementation has not been very clear’
“While it is a good idea, the implementation has not been very clear and seamless for us,” Penn Manor Superintendent Mike Leichliter said.
Leichliter said he attended a regional training session in December with hundreds of other educators at the Lancaster County Convention Center in downtown Lancaster. The training team seemed overwhelmed by the number of attendees, he said. It started late. The app and website weren’t ready, so they had to use a demo site.
This left many wondering what procedures to follow, how to train students and faculty, and how to promote the program, Leichliter said.
Joe Grace, spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said in a phone interview Friday that every superintendent received a letter with related information, adding that school officials with questions should contact the attorney general’s office.
“We’ll have a lot more to say about this really important initiative in the coming days and weeks to come,” he said.
‘A general lack of understanding’
State Sen. Scott Martin, of Martic Township, was a cosponsor of the legislation, which included Safe2Say and other school safety measures. Recently, Martin told LNP, he’s heard a lot of concerns over the program’s implementation — particularly, who’s responsible for training whom.
“Up until two weeks ago, we thought everything was smooth-sailing,” he said.
The unfavorable response from school officials led him and state Rep. Bryan Cutler, of Peach Bottom, to pen a letter Friday to Shapiro.
“Due to the fact that the launch date is in a few days ... it has been disappointing to hear that so many entities are still not on the same page and/or not yet trained,” the letter reads.
The letter continues: There also “seems to be a general lack of understanding by educators of the basic concepts of the program as well as their general role in the process.”
Despite the troubleshooting problems, Martin said he’s confident that the program will work as intended — to, as he said, prevent “potentially devastating” events like the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
‘It’s been frustrating’
Also cautiously optimistic is Brian Barnhart, executive director for the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13.
He says communication from the attorney general’s office has been “insufficient.” The IU, he said, could play a vital role in communication and training, but it hasn’t been utilized. For example, Barnhart offered to host the regional training at the IU headquarters on New Holland Avenue — for free — but Sandy Hook Promise opted instead for the convention center.
“It’s been frustrating, but we’re committed to make it work and to help,” he said. “That’s what IUs do.”
Letter to Attorney General by on Scribd