Corey Saffold hopes the Verona Area School District’s newest tool to promote safety never gets used.
That would mean no major fights or other security incidents, which is a good goal, but one the VASD school security coordinator knows isn’t realistic.
The SafeSchools Alert Tip Reporting System, added at no cost to the district this year, allows parents and students to anonymously report suspicious behavior or share information that indicates a potential incident set to occur at school.
That anonymity can be “really important for teenagers,” Saffold said, as they consider what information to share about issues like drugs or violence.
Tips can be sent in via the phone app, a call, text, email or on the system’s website. The district has a unique code, 1817, that allows the app to send an alert to the district staff members when a tip is submitted.
Saffold, a former Madison police officer, helped develop a process for assessing any tips that come in. It begins with a group of school officials receiving an alert when something is sent, with the group changing based on the time of day. During the school day, school secretaries, social workers and other staff members at each school receive the notifications, while the evening, weekend and holiday hours are split up among a group of four administrators that includes Saffold.
Once a tip is received, it gets further directed to a team focused on that type of potential incident. That team will use a list of questions to determine its seriousness – questions that were developed by the security team and finalized by a group of administrators from around the district.
Those questions focus on such topics as a description of the threat and the specificity of the tip. Those and other categories are scored on a rating from a scale of zero to four – and when they’re all added up, it indicates how serious the threat is, which leads to who needs to be notified.
That system should help weed out potential fake tips, Saffold said, which he knows might come sometimes when dealing with adolescents.
“We really took our time in creating a good process,” Saffold said.
The effort to avoid fake submissions and get students and families to use the service is a product of the same mindset that is key to safety and security in the first place, Saffold said, and one of the district’s pillars in its strategic plan: “authentic relationships.” Those relationships can help make students comfortable letting staff know something they overheard on the bus or saw on social media.
District public information officer Kelly Kloepping said some of that already happens, but this provides an additional opportunity with the additional layer of anonymity.
“We are proud of the students that already are beautifully working with staff in situations where we need input,” she said. “The tip line’s only one more way to add to what’s already happening.”
In the first week, Saffold said, they’d only received one tip – and it was a parent letting the district know their child would be absent from school.
“We quickly told them that this is not the platform to report an absence,” he said, smiling. “We anticipate some of that happening.”