Education

'Say Something': Dallas ISD Launches Anonymous Tip Program to Stave Off School Violence

Dallas ISD is working to make schools safer.
Dallas ISD is working to make schools safer. Photo by Redd on Unsplash
One morning in May 2018, a student entered his high school in Santa Fe, a small city near Galveston, with a shotgun and a handgun tucked in his trench coat. He opened fire on an art class, killing 10.

Gov. Greg Abbott initially said the suspected shooter displayed few warning signs, but classmates claimed that he’d been bullied, according to The Associated Press. Later, news outlets reported that Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, had also left a trail of inflammatory social media posts ahead of his killing spree.

Now, some school districts are taking proactive steps toward ensuring this type of violence doesn’t happen again.

In a news release earlier this week, Dallas ISD announced it’s rolling out the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System for schools with grades 6 to 12. It allows students to anonymously report school threats, such as potential shootings and bullying, as well as personal crises like self-harm.

“Students are grappling with all kinds of challenges since the onset of the pandemic,” Dallas ISD Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova said in a news release. “We believe it is also our responsibility to help identify behaviors before they escalate into problems, and the [Say] Something model does that, ultimately preventing serious acts from ever occurring.”

Tipsters can report their concerns via a website, mobile app and phone hotline on any day of the year, at any time. Say Something's crisis center is unique because it's the only one at a national level focused specifically on schools. School representatives are alerted of credible life-threatening tips that demand immediate intervention.

When the threat is imminent, local 911 dispatch is notified and law enforcement becomes involved, according to the release. The hope is that such anonymous tips will prevent bullying, suicides and school shootings.

Around 5,500 schools nationwide have adopted Say Something’s anonymous reporting system, said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit led by family members of those killed at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Hockley lost her child Dylan to the school shooting.

"There is a crisis out there with so many youth right now." – Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise

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Say Something started as a program several years ago, but at first, there wasn’t an anonymous reporting system available, she told the Observer. Students learned how to recognize warning signs of those in crisis, and after receiving feedback, an anonymous reporting system was developed.

“We were hearing from kids, especially in large cities, that they really liked Say Something, but they didn’t always feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult,” Hockley said. “They wanted to remain anonymous; they were afraid that they might get in trouble or get someone else in trouble.”

Sandy Hook Promise notes that warning signs were present in nearly every single documented school shooting. At least one person with knowledge of a school shooter's plan neglected to report it in four out of five cases.

Texas is home to one of the highest numbers of such occurrences, according to World Population Review. Since 1970, the Lone Star State has seen 135 school shootings, making it the state with the second-highest number behind California’s 164.

Hockley said more than 200 Texas schools have adopted Say Something’s Anonymous Reporting System, which is provided to districts free of cost, and that it’s been proven to work.

Around 112,000 tips have been fielded since they launched in 2018, resulting in more than 2,700 mental health interventions, she said. They’ve also facilitated interventions on more than 60 acts of violence with a weapon on school property, including seven credible planned school shootings.

Hockley also estimates that the system has saved at least 296 students from taking their own lives, adding that suicide became the No. 1 reported tip during the pandemic.

The pandemic's toll on mental health is something we’ll learn about for years to come, she continued. “There is a crisis out there with so many youth right now,” Hockley said, “and I’m grateful that there are tools like the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System so that they have places to go, people to talk to and they know that they’re going to get the help that they need.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter