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Wabash deploys safety hotline

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@wabashplaindealer.com

Wabash City Schools has started a Safe School Helpline for students and the public to submit tips anonymously concerning individual student and school safety.

The initiative is something the school corporation always wanted to do, according to Wabash High School Assistant Principal Jeff Galley. In July, Galley ventured to Penn High School in Mishawaka with Assistant Fire Chief Andy Oswalt and School Resource Officer Sam Hipskind for an active shooter drill, anticipating the same training that would come to Wabash in August. During his visit, he saw that the athletic department printed a helpline on the back of all of their pamphlets and information pieces.

“After that, we were completely on board,” he said. “We’d been looking for something like this for our schools, but we just weren’t sure what it would look like.”

It took three months to set up, but the system finally deployed on Monday when students returned from winter break.

The hotline allows students, parents and residents to anonymously text, call or submit information concerning student safety.

“Safe School Helpline allows students, parents and community members to report any threats of violence, depression and/or illegal activity that could jeopardize the safety of our children, staff or school,” according to a press release from WCS. “Whether it is a student who fears being labeled by their peers, or a community member who worries about vandalism in retaliation for reporting a crime, possession or use of drugs or alcohol, reckless driving, or any other illegal activity, Safe School Helpline provides a solution.”

Once a tip is submitted, the individual contacting the line will be given a case number and asked to call back in three days. The information is then transcribed and submitted to school administrators, who have 24 hours to respond. This way, Galley said information cannot be set aside or forgotten. Administrators submit their response to the hotline, who adds it to the case file so when the caller contacts the hotline again in three days they know what is being done to resolve the issue or can provide further information. Those who contact the hotline are never asked for their identity.

Galley said the service also acts as a 24-hour hotline for students struggling with mental illness and need immediate help.

“This is something students can use any time of the day, even when we’re not at school for 14 days on break, to get the help they need and connect them with the right people,” he said.

While the hotline remains a valuable resource to the school, Galley said he hopes they never have to use it.

“I hope to the high heavens that it’s never used, but we know that’s not going to happen. We’re living with blinders on if we think that something in Noblesville or Richmond couldn’t happen here,” he said, referring to two Indiana school shootings that took place in 2018. “We have to do whatever is humanly possible to help protect our students and staff.”

Wabash City Schools asks that if you see something or hear something, say something by calling (800) 418-6423 ext. 359 or text TIPS to 66746. Free mobile apps are available for both Apple and Android phones. If a caller would prefer to speak with a live mental health counselor, they can do so by selecting an identified call-tree option. For those who prefer reporting online, reports can be made by logging onto www.safeschoolhelpline.com.