Parents and lots of fidgety children filled the Bayfield High School cafetorium Monday night for presentations about an assortment of youth safety issues. Also present were local law enforcement, Upper Pine Fire, school staff, even a Homeland Security representative with information about online sexual predators.
District Safety and Transportation Director Jeff Whitmore welcomed attendees and said, "This came about from talking to some counselors that we want to get the information from these (school staff) trainings out to families."
The keynote speaker was Susan Payne, founder and executive director of Safe2Tell, a way for kids or anyone to submit anonymous concerns about something, with immediate referral to local officials for a response.
Payne said she worked in law enforcement for 26 years with various agencies, including the FBI. She comes from a law enforcement family. She has two kids in college and one in high school. She started Safe2Tell as a non-profit in the 2004-05 school year. It now receives state funding and operates in the State Attorney General's Office.
Payne talked to middle and high school students earlier on Monday.
She urged parents to talk to their kids about issues they might face, and let them know you want them to speak up. Safe2Tell was created following school shooting tragedies, she said - Columbine, Red Lake, Minn., Sandy Hook and others.
There were common denominators of how those might have been prevented, Payne said, citing a student code of silence that has to be addressed.
"When there's a code of silence, our communities become dangerous places," she said. "When we look at school shootings where lives were lost, 81 percent of the time, there was someone who knew it was going to happen and didn't speak up." In many cases, more than one person knew. There are peers who know when a kid is showing troubling signs such as emotional issues. Sometimes adults see it too.
"What's normal teen behavior?" she asked. "Sometimes it looks a lot like depression." Most school shooters showed concerning behavior before the shooting happened.
"We've done a really good job of response in this country" after a shooting has happened, Payne said. She showed a short You Tube video called The Sandy Hook Promise that has gone viral. It shows regular school scenes with kids in the hall, the lunch room, the library. Hidden in those images is a boy doing things that should be a warning, such as looking at shooting videos or pretending to shoot someone in school. The video ends with kids running screaming as someone with a gun comes in the door.
"Know the signs" of potential trouble, Payne said. "Sometimes the signs are glaringly obvious. Does something feel like a threat?"
Safe2Tell is a way to let someone know, to eliminate the barriers that keep people silent. If you call, someone will respond, Payne said. The information will be relayed immediately to local school response teams and local law enforcement.
The calls cover multiple issues other than possible school shooters, such as bullying, suicide threats, dating violence, or someone passed out from drinking and whose life could be at risk if someone doesn't intervene. "You can report it without getting in trouble. Are you afraid of getting your friend in trouble?" she asked. "If this was you, would you want someone to call?"
So another part of her mission is traveling to educate students on why and when they should break that code of silence.
"We have to teach our kids what to watch for and to speak up... that there's hope and help. We have that conversation about why they think it's a betrayal (to report a situation), that it's a betrayal NOT to speak up."
The Safe2Tell tip line is at (877) 542-7233 or www.safe2tellco.org. A Safe2Tell phone app is available from the Apple App Store, or for Android phones on Googleplay.
Safe2Tell got 5,816 reports during the 2015-16 school year, a 68-percent increase from the previous year. There were 664 reports in Dec. 2016, up 51 percent from Dec. 2015. The largest number of Dec. 2016 reports were for suicide threats, bullying, and drugs.
Payne said the calls aren't all about someone in Colorado. Calls have brought interventions in other states, and even other countries.