Gov. Larry Hogan announced a new initiative to keep Maryland students safe: a new tip line and 'Safe Schools Maryland' app to make it easy for students to report concerns.
"Incidents of targeted violence at our schools are rarely sudden impulsive acts; instead, in the majority of these incidents, another person was aware of what the student was thinking or planning to do," Hogan said.
Hogan says all too often, students don't report what they see or hear because of fear of retaliation or rejection. Students say it's also hard to know what to do with a social media threat.
"A lot that goes on on social media is something that would be definitely red-flagged in person but because of the anonymity of social media and also because it's so impersonal, a lot of times people will just slide it under the rug or just let it go and a lot of times students are even sure who to report it to," St. Mary's Ryken HS student Sydney Neal said.
"The troubling result is a code of silence in which students suffer harm that could have been prevented if another person had chosen to speak out," Hogan said.
He hopes these new avenues empower students to break the code of silence, identifying students in crisis to ge them help. It's something Great Mills HS student Donovan Weekley says could save lives. His classmate Jaelynn Willey was shot and killed in school earlier this year. The gunman, another student, then killed himself.
"From what has happened at Great Mills HW all the way to other incidents nationwide, social media tends to play a dramatic role. Students are using social media to talk about very personal events. They are talking about their problems and if these were problems being told to adults, they would be interpreted as very important and vital messages. However, it's not often that these messages make it to adults. The accessibility of this hotline could very well be the difference between a student taking the situation upon himself and herself and alerting authorities," Weekley said.
Trained technicians at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency will respond to reports 24/7. All life-threatening tips will be referred to local law enforcement and the school system.
The number of the tip line is 1-833-MDB-SAFE (1-833-632-7233) and officials want it to be taken seriously. They don't want technicians to waste time chasing down fake tips when they could be looking into a real threat. Officials also made it clear that this does not replace 9-1-1. If there is an emergency, this tip line is not the answer.