LANSING — A senator is pushing to renew a 2013 law that allowsstudents to anonymously send tips regarding bullying and crime in their schools to help improve safety.
Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, introduced a bill that would eliminate the “sunset” of the original “OK2SAY” law, which essentially means it will continue as is.
Laws can have a period before their “sunset,” when it is decided whether that law is effective, and Emmons said this act has proven its effectiveness through the number of kids that are using it.
The Student Safety Act, which created a program called OK2SAY, allows students in any school to anonymously report incidents of crime, bullying, intimidation, incidents of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or other safety threats. If a student is concerned for a classmate who may be experiencing any of these things, they can send a message in as well.
These messages can be sent via text, phone call or email, Emmons said.
“The whole design was set up so that the child could be confidential in the communication and they’d anonymous,” Emmons said.
About 7,300 contacts have been made since the program was implemented in Michigan. The 3,359 tips received in 2016 were a 55 percent increase from 2015, Emmons said in an email. She also said in the first two months of 2017, 700 tips came in.
In the 2015-16 school year alone, 2,720 presentations about OK2SAY were made all over the state, according to OK2SAY’s website.
Sault Ste. Marie Area Public Schools Superintendent Tim Hall said the schools implemented the OK2SAY program shortly after the state rolled it out.
Hall said that since the district has several initiatives dedicated to reducing bullying outside of OK2SAY, he can’t necessarily attribute reductions in bullying to that program alone, but OK2SAY has helped Sault Ste. Marie schools address situations with its students.
“It helps, of course, that it’s an anonymous tip line, so kids aren’t feeling like they’re going to get any backlash if they do report something,” Hall said.
Sault Ste. Marie schools have had a couple of presentations from the OK2SAY program and they’re very happy with the results, Hall said.
If a faculty member or student were to send in a tip, Hall said it’s first sent to OK2SAY, then OK2SAY will contact the district if further help is needed. When dealing with issues involving suicidal thoughts or self-harm, Hall said once the district is notified they will bring in the necessary resources to help the person that needs it.
“We have had a couple of situations that, because the student contacted OK2SAY, they were able to get the necessary information, contacted us and we were able to resolve the situation to the benefit of the student,” Hall said.
Hall said Sault Ste. Marie schools doesn’t contact OK2SAY to ask for statistics on how many students from their district are using the program. Hall said the one time he did speak with OK2SAY about the number of students sending tips, the number wasn’t very high.
“It’s significant, in my opinion, because of the importance of the fact that we’re able to help students. But it’s not a huge number of calls from our district to OK2SAY,” Hall said.
Hall said the social media aspect of bullying is something that kids are dealing with now and students all over the country have committed suicide as a result, and he is grateful for programs like OK2SAY.
“That’s a tragedy beyond words,” Hall said. “If we’re able to resolve one situation for a student throughout the school year, then (OK2SAY) is a very solid investment.”
Emmons said if this program helps these children and their parents, it’s doing its job and should remain an option for kids to report any incidents.
“These are difficult times to grow up in when you’re a kid,” Emmons said. “And it’s a difficult time to parent.”
Michigan’s program was modeled after one in Colorado, Emmons said. Now, other states are looking to Michigan for guidance.
Hall said he’s aware of the legislation Emmons introduced to eliminate the sunset on the Student Safety Act and OK2SAY, and said, “We very much would like to see this program continue,” Hall said.
Emmons’ bill to keep OK2SAY alive has been referred to the Education Committee.
— LAURA BOHANNON, Capital News Service