When MacDonald Middle School closed for a day in October due to social media threats against its students, parents could rest assured the school district had several checks in place to encourage safe reporting of such threats.
One state-wide program is OK2SAY. The platform was introduced in Michigan in 2014 as a way to allow students and parents to confidentially report crimes or potential violence against an individual or school. Michigan State Police (MSP) receive the tips and contact administrators at the school who can address the tip. Just one tool in the district’s safety arsenal, it has been a powerful option for students and parents to confidentially report threats.
Ashley Schwarzbek is assistant principal at East Lansing High School and the primary recipient of OK2SAY tips from the MSP. She explained how the system works.
“I get a call from MSP, who coordinates the OK2SAY hotline, and they transfer any information they have,” Schwarzbek said. “They’ll tell me the report and then follow up with an email. Depending on what the report is, we might coordinate with them to address the issue.”
After school hours, Schwarzbek said, MSP will only reach out if it is an emergency.
“I’ve never got [a report from OK2SAY] that’s real frivolous,” she said. “If it’s an after-hours report of immediate concern about suicidality or other forms of self-harm, [MSP] will connect with us to get the information on the family [of the student] so police can do welfare checks.”
During the 2021-2022 school year, Schwarzbek received 15 total OK2SAY reports.
“It’s really dependent on the time of the year and other factors,” she said. “Occasionally, we get multiple reports of the same incident, particularly if it’s been posted on social media. If we receive the report during the school day, we would work with the school social worker and counselor to address needs.”
School officials are quick to share reporting resources including OK2SAY to students.
“We actually just had a class meeting with freshmen,” Schwarzbek said. “We let them know OK2SAY is there as a tool for urgent needs. Social media is often the first time a threat [surfaces] and since we’re not connected to our students [on social media], the students self-report on issues affecting their peers.”
The October incident at MacDonald, while reported via OK2SAY, initially came to the school’s attention directly from a student who had told a teacher, according to ELPS Superintendent Dori Leyko.
“I was made aware of the threat at about 11:20 p.m. when I received a call from our middle school principal,” Leyko said. “My next step was I communicated with the ELPD due to the nature of the threat being against the students at the time.”
Leyko said the administrators worked closely with police to investigate the threat as soon as possible.
“We gave the police officers some student information, which we’re allowed to during safety issues,” she said. “The police officers performed hard home visits that night. It’s hard to do an investigation at midnight. They called me back at 1:45 a.m. to let me know that they couldn’t rule out that the threat wasn’t credible. Finally, at around 2 a.m., I communicated again with some administrators to let them know that we were closing the middle school. I sent an email blast to staff, an email blast to families and scheduled a robocall [for families] for 5:30 a.m.”
Leyko also communicated with the superintendent of Okemos Public Schools because the MacDonald threat included a vague comment about that school district.
There are numerous systems in place to keep ELPS safe, Leyko said.
“Per state law, we have to conduct five fire drills, three tornado drills and three lock-down drills each year,” she said.
She went on to describe that one lock-down drill happens during unstructured time, when students will be out of the classroom. Principals review the safety procedures at the beginning of each school year and the East Lansing Police Department helps assess performance during the drills to determine any weak spots.
Leyko has also applied for state funds that will provide monies for the district to conduct building safety assessments by outside experts. Another will complete critical response mapping, allowing first responders to have an electronic map of the school in cases of emergency.
“We take a multi-faceted approach to school safety,” Leyko said. “It’s not all about infrastructure, it’s not all about personnel, it’s not all about training and response, and it’s not all about mental health. But it is about all of them.”