RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Center for Safe Schools has released tip statistics from the “Say Something” anonymous school reporting app, and the data reveals consistently high tips for bullying, self-harm and suicidal ideation.
In May 2019, former state Superintendent Mark Johnson announced an agreement and contract with Sandy Hook Promise to provide a statewide “Say Something Anonymous Reporting System.”
The app is intended to allow students and parents to report suspicious behavior, bullying or similar tips in an allegedly anonymous fashion. Tips can also be sent through an online portal or using a phone hotline which can include photos and videos. The app is currently available for North Carolina students in grades 6-12 but is not available for elementary students.
Since the state began using the app, 5,080 tips have been logged. Of those tips, the top five made up 53% of all tips received. Bullying was the number one reported tip, followed closely by alarming numbers of self-harm, suicide risk and depression.
Bullying — 813 tips (16%)
Cutting/Self-Harm — 631 (12%)
Suicide — 494 (10%)
Depression — 483 (10%)
Drug use — 298 (6%)
Various studies and surveys have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on K-12 student mental health, with suicide being one of the top concerns. Upon request, the Center for Safe Schools furnished 2020 specific data for the time frame spanning Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 of 2020. The top categories mirrored that of the overall tip counts for the app.
Bullying/Cyberbullying — 95
Cutting/Self-Harm — 71
Depression/Anxiety — 42
Drug Use/Distribution — 38
Suicide/Suicide Ideation —34
A look at the top five for the month of just February 2021 revealed the top tip category was “planned school attack,” with 70 logged tips. The other top tips for February included 31 tips for suicide/suicide ideation, 26 tips for cutting/self-harm, 12 for weapons and 10 for depression/anxiety.
According to the “Say Something” app documentation, it is supported by a crisis center staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who will “triage, categorize and deliver tip information.” The person reporting a behavior or incident can include media files like photos or audio along with their tip.
Tips are sorted into two groups: “life safety” or “non-life safety.” The Crisis Center is supposed to notify school or state officials after hours if a tip is deemed life threatening. In a situation of imminent threat, the Crisis Center will contact local 911 operators.
While the app download itself might be free, the support for it comes with a hefty price tag.
The fee schedule presented in 2019 was for a five-year term that totaled over $3.1 million. The initial costs presented in 2019 put the first year’s costs alone just under $600,000, with one-time costs to be billed in year one: including a project management fee of $48,000, and installment, migration and implementation costs of $50,000.
The costs of the app were scheduled to increase annually, with the second year at $553,728, third at $570,340, fourth at $587,450, and fifth at $605,074.
According to the billing information provided by the Center for Safe Schools, the year one amount that was billed and paid came to $635,600. The amount billed for year two will be 603,728 as of the March 31, 2021, final invoice.
In addition to the annual Crisis Center fees, a $50,000-a-year licensing fee is part of the deal. The center fee includes seven counselors and two supervisors, which are shared with other clients and work 24 hours a day, year-round at a Sandy Hook Promise facility located in Miami, Florida.
According to the fee schedule, the Crisis Center fee includes hiring, training, management, salary, health, 401k, taxes, and payroll-processing fees. Built into the fee structure are year-over-year growth accounts for a standard pay increase (2.5%) plus incremental healthcare cost (5.5%).
The millions in funding needed to support the Say Something app comes from the state’s 2018-19 budget. The General Assembly allotted $5 million in non-recurring funds for an anonymous safety tip line application to be implemented by the Center for Safer Schools and the Department of Public Instruction.
The app was presented to the N.C. State Board of Education in 2019 by a member of Sandy Hook Promise, the creator of the app. Sandy Hook Promise is a 501(c)3 non-profit formed in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and is run parents of some of the victims. Filings show the group’s revenue was over $10.89 million, and staff salaries totaling over $5.21 million for fiscal year ending 2019. The group’s 2018 gross receipts totaled over $14.4 million with board salaries and compensation reaching over $2.6 million.
The organization also has a political arm, the Sandy Hook Foundation Action Fund, which lobbies at the state and federal level for various gun control measures. The fund is a dark money 501(c)4 with revenue of over $2.11 million with staff salaries totaling $661,127 for the fiscal year ending in 2019.