As the nation tackles rising school violence, Nebraska is investigating ways to head off threats.
The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center is evaluating tip lines Nebraska schools set up for students, parents, staff and the community to report behaviors of concern. Many lines also support students in crisis, such as those being bullied or feeling suicidal.
“We’re trying to get people to come forward when there’s a problem so we can address it quickly,” said center director Mario Scalora, professor of psychology. “We find that if we give people assistance, they’re less likely to hurt themselves or other people.”
Scalora and his team are evaluating a range of issues, from factors that influence people to come forward to the type of concerns reported and how they’re handled. Scalora is a nationally known expert in threat assessment and violence prevention.
Traditionally telephonic, tip lines today include apps, websites, texts and emails.
Although many school districts have established their own threat assessment process, the state also recently provided an option called Safe2HelpNE, a statewide tip line program school districts can opt into.
The program differs from most states’ systems in two important ways, said Denise Bulling, the center’s senior research director. First, calls are answered by trained crisis counselors rather than law enforcement.
“The goal is not necessarily to bring law enforcement in unless it’s a crime,” Bulling said. “The goal is to wrap support around the person in crisis and divert them from that path to violence.”
Second, to receive a report from Safe2HelpNE, a school must have a trained threat assessment team in place, ready to act.
The center partners with the Nebraska Department of Education to conduct threat assessment trainings open to all Nebraska public and non-public school systems. Results from the center’s study will help refine trainings and improve community resources.
The center is also evaluating the new federal 988 mental health hotline and examining how it’s working in conjunction with local and state tip lines. Its findings will help guide local and national threat reporting and prevention.
A $1.28 million U.S. Department of Justice grant funds this project.
Nebraska news release: Public Policy Center partnering on new school safety system
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