Schenectady school to invest $10,000 in anonymous tip line to curb violence
SCHENECTADY The city school district will invest $10,000 in a phone line for anonymous tips in an effort to reduce violence at its schools, welcoming tips from anyone — staff, students, parents and residents.
At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Operations William Roberts presented a video from the hot line operators describing how they would operate the line and keep tips anonymous.
Each tip is transcribed by the operator, a private company in Ohio, and then given to the school district so that no one can be identified by voice. Callers are also urged not to say anything that would identify them.
The school district will respond in writing to each call within three school days. The callers are instructed to call back after three days to hear a recording of the district’s response, which could range from a simple message of thanks to a detailed report on what the district did to investigate the tip and solve the problem.
The entire tip line is run automatically, with callers leaving messages and then calling back to hear the district’s message. The hot line transcribers call district officials immediately if they receive a message that describes an emergency but otherwise remain uninvolved.
The tip line also serves as a direct access point to a live suicide prevention hot line. Those who press a button indicating they are calling about suicide are transferred to a suicide counselor immediately.
A student at the Greece Central School District, near Rochester, used the hot line to report suicidal thoughts and was talked out of committing suicide, Superintendent John Yagielski said.
“They had an incident where they credit this system with actually preventing suicide,” he said.
The issue is still a sensitive one in Schenectady, where a suicide cluster led to four girls killing themselves two school years ago. District staff still stress suicide prevention regularly.
But the school board focused more on the possibility that students could use the tip line to report planned violence or crime. With advanced warning, the district could intervene. It could also remove drug dealers from the school population if other students “narc” on them, as encouraged in a video produced by the hot line operators.
School board member Andrew Chestnut said the hot line is exactly what the district needs.
“Providing an opportunity to get more information is going to lower some obstacles and it’s going to give the district the opportunity to be aware of things it would not otherwise be aware of,” he said.
But the board doesn’t expect a flood of tips.
The Greece school district’s hot line has been running for about five years. It got 100 tips in its first year but only 25 tips last year, Yagielski said. The district has about one-third more students than Schenectady.
The district has contracted to run the hot line for one year. No commitment has been made for further years, Yagielski said.
“They’re letting us try it for a year to see if it makes a difference for us,” he said.
Roberts added that he’s sure it will help reduce the violence that has led to the high school being placed on the state’s persistently dangerous schools list.
“The anonymity piece is the important part. I think we’ll get good information,” he said.