Playtime: New system makes it easy to report school threats — even anonymously

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In the first two weeks of November, three different schools in the Edmonds School District had cases of possible threats.

A student at Brier Terrace Middle School “received a text message from another student that suggested a third student might threaten the school.” Based on the investigation by Brier Police, the message was “not being considered a credible threat to the school.”

Veteran’s Day weekend, there was a threat against Meadowdale Middle School — a note posted on the Meadowdale Middle Parent Club Facebook page said, “The individual responsible for the online post threatening our school community has been identified and contacted by law enforcement.”

Just days after the Brier Terrace Middle School issue, a 17-year-old Edmonds-Woodway High School student posted a threatening message on Snapchat. The student who posted the message had “no access to firearms” per the Edmonds Police Department; as of Nov. 9, they will be charged in juvenile court for the crime of cyber threats.

In her email regarding the issue, BTMS Principal “Alex” Alexander thanked the student who received the text message “for telling a trusted adult who immediately took the concern to school administration.” Similar appreciation was expressed in messages to parents from EWHS Principal Terrance Mims and Meadowdale Middle Principal Joseph Webster. Mims said a student reported the image to the EWHS administrative team after it had shown up on Snapchat, and Webster thanked the “students and parents who immediately reported their concerns to school administration.”

In light of these local stories, and the many more we hear about nationally — and given how thankful we all are for those who reported — I want to give you all of the info on the Safe Schools Alert that the Edmonds School District uses. I also want to show you all of the different ways students, families and even staff can report concerns, even anonymously.

I spoke with Kelly Franson, communications specialist for the Edmonds School District, about the Safe Schools Alert system and the app option that was recently added. Franson told me that in fall 2017, this Safe Schools Alert system — where you can report any safety concern via phone, text, email, website — and now is an app, replaced the previous system, which was a tip line with only a voicemail. The web option is linked to your local school’s website as well, available on a red tab that reads “Report Incident.”

Even though the system was in place in late 2017, the district saw an increase in reports in spring 2018 when they added posters with the Safe Schools Alert information. Franson and I spoke about what kind of incidents warrant a report, as well as just how anonymous you can be. While confirming that no tip is too small, she explains that “if it’s a safety issue, send it.”

The Safe Schools Alert page on the Edmonds School District website includes a letter from Superintendent Kristine McDuffy who says that “this includes, but is not limited to, the use or possession of drugs, knives, guns, and/or threats to injure, bully, or assault others,” Franson added that the system had also been used to report racist comments at a local school.

Since students can often feel nervous about alienating their friends or can be unsure whether a certain issue is enough to report, they have the option to report any issue anonymously. McDuffy writes further on the ESD Safe Schools Alert Page that the school district wants “to break any ‘code of silence’ if one exists, with respect to matters that can impact the safety of their schools.”

Franson and I spent some time going over the anonymity portion of this process, as I wanted you to be able to share with your student her assurances that they have the option to post the info without other students or staff finding out. ESD contracts with Safe Schools Alert so it is a third-party system and those who would like to report an issue can do so without sharing any personal or contact information. The system just sets up a “ticket” and doesn’t identify the person who made the report.

Franson says that it is definitely helpful for those who choose the option online to create the login needed to access your tip, as sometimes there are follow-up questions, even about small details, that can help inform those in charge. However, those reporting don’t have to create a login in order to send a tip.

Even staff or community members can use this system if they have information about something they’ve heard.

Franson explained that when you make a report, you can choose your child’s school and that the administration, along with the district’s safety team, will receive the information. I am thinking that this could be helpful when it comes to transportation concerns, considering they are the department that manages issues on the bus and students know if they share their concerns and are found out, they’ll have to still share the bus with the person.

In what Franson calls a “game changer,” this new system allows users to add an image to their report. She explained that when the threats are on social media, often as they get shared text is added to the image, which is indecipherable from the original text, as was the case with the EWHS image. She said that when the image is reported to Safe Schools Alert, they are able to go back to the earliest images and figure out what the earliest iterations of the image contained.

This issue of having the original information distorted once spread time and time again was echoed by Edmonds Police Sgt. Shane Hawley. Hawley compared the changes in original information and accompanying rumors to a game of “telephone” as information and misinformation “spread like wildfire” in these cases. Hawley said that changes in the original information definitely add time to the investigation as police wade through the additions and information to get to the source.

Franson and Hawley both want you to share your information. Franson said that just because you’ve heard about an issue, “don’t assume it’s been reported,” and she assured me that multiple reports were OK. Franson and Hawley agreed that sometimes a small bit of info makes a big difference.

If you would like to use the Safe Schools Alert system — on top of being linked to the website on your student’s school site — these are your options:

1. Phone: 425.551.7393

2. Text: 425.551.7393

3. Email: [email protected]

4. Web: http://1480.alert1.us

5. App: Available on both Google Play and App Store
Use school code # 1480 when prompted during the app download.

To test the Safe Schools Alert app, my husband, oldest son and I all downloaded it — two iPhones, one Android. (The image is a white and red life preserver.) It asks you to enter the school code, which for our entire district is 1480. It worked the same way on both types of phones we have. I ran through how to add a tip with my middle schooler and I felt it was user friendly. You can add the information and choose from a list of district schools. We talked about what the superintendent wrote — backed up by what Franson and Sgt. Hawley said: That no matter what, if it is a safety concern, big or small, it is the right thing to do to pass it on.

— By Jennifer Marx

Jen Marx

Jen Marx, an Edmonds mom of two boys, is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time.

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