AG Schuette touts OK2Say hotline at Cass Tech
Detroit — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette visited Cass Technical High School on Tuesdayto fight the “culture of silence” that makes young people stay quiet when they know of someone who has plans to harm others or themselves.
Schuette came to promote use of the OK2Say anonymous hotline that went live in 2014. To date, 1,400 tips have come in. The program has intervened in suicide attempts and stopped fights before they start.
“This whole thing of ‘stop snitching’ — how stupid is that?” Schuette said to about 800 9th graders in the school auditorium. “We want to have a culture of responsibility, safety, and taking care of your friends and neighbors.
From the time young people enter school, they’re told to tell an adult or alert the authorities when fellow students threaten to harm others or themselves, but somewhere along the line that message is lost. Going to the principal’s office requires leaving class in a visible way that draws other students’ attention. If another student is called down to the principal’s office soon after, it’s not hard for students to identify the tattletale.
Not only does being identified as a “snitch” not help a student’s popularity, sometimes it’s not even safe. OK2Say takes the word snitch out of the discussion by letting students make problems known without fear of being identified.
OK2Say accepts tips via hotline (855) 5-OK-2-SAY, email OK2Say@michigan.gov, mobile app or website michigan.gov/OK2say. Even if a student identifies him or herself to a technician on the hotline, they have no reason to fear being identified as its source.
The hotline is administered by Michigan State Police and operates out of MSP headquarters. Tips are sent to the authorities best suited to handle a situation. Sometimes that’s the school district, sometimes it’s a local police force or Child Protective Services. Technicians were hired by the state police and received training in mental health first aid, child abuse and neglect, suicide prevention, domestic violence and the confidentiality demands of the program.
The appeal of OK2Say is not only its anonymity, said Lisa Phillips, principal of Cass Tech, but its use of modern technology.
“This is the tech generation,” Phillips. “They don’t mind telling what they see, but they need a way to do it without retaliation.”
Schuette said that while “there’s never any guarantees,” the hotline is “one more tool in the safety box.” According to the 2014 annual report covering the first year of OK2Say, some 601 tips came in on 410 unique incidents. That number has grown to 1,400 tips in just a short time.
“The vast majority” of the tips that come in are legitimate, said Matt Bolger, who works in intelligence with the Michigan State Police.
Schuette called a special, unannounced guest to assist him on stage: Detroit Police Chief James Craig, a 1974 graduate of Cass Tech.
“These are the future leaders of this city,” said Craig, wearing a green-and-yellow tie — Cass Tech colors.
The attorney general has his own family connection to the school, he said. His father-in-law is a 1937 graduate of Cass Tech.
Sharing the stage was a group of students from Cass’ “No Bully Zone,” an anti-bullying student club that takes anonymous tips when students feel they’re being pushed around.
About 100 tips have come in via No Bully Zone since it was founded three years ago, Phillips said. Some tips have panned out, others haven’t, but what’s important is to create a culture where students feel comfortable coming forward. About 50 of Cass Tech’s 2,300 students are members, Phillips said.
Cass Tech junior Victoria Singleton, vice president of the No Bully Zone, said the organization travels to Detroit middle schools to spread its anti-bullying message.
“We want people to know from a young age that bullying is something you just can’t do,” Singleton said.
OK2Say was developed in response to the Newtown school shooting in December 2012, Schuette said. It was created by the Student Safety Act of 2013 and is modeled on a Colorado program, Safe2Tell, which also offers a place to leave anonymous tips. Colorado was the site of the Columbine school shooting in April 1999.
OK2Say’s legislative mandate expires on Oct. 1, 2017, if it is not extended by the Legislature and approved by the governor. Schuette told The News he would like to see it become a permanent piece in the Michigan’s “toolbox” of school safety measures.