Tatum Kleis is glad to know that if she sees someone being bullied, there’s a number to call.
“It makes me feel safer,” the North Rockford Middle School eighth-grader said of the OK2SAY confidential tip program. “If I see a problem, I can report it and no one will know it was me who reported it.”
A state-run program to help keep Michigan students safe. OK2SAY enables students to confidentially report threatening behavior, and coordinates law enforcement and school systems to respond to the threat.
Tatum and about 950 other students recently got a crash course in the state-run program, which aims to break the silence around bullying and threats of violence in schools. North Middle was the first of all 13 Rockford Public Schools to receive awareness sessions for OK2SAY, letting students know they can report misbehavior without fear of retaliation.
The program is an “early warning system” to stop violence before it happens, state Attorney General Bill Schuette said at the Oct. 1 assembly.
“We care about you,” Schuette told students. “We want to make sure schools are places of learning, not violence.”
Research has shown that in 81 percent of school violence incidents, at least one other person knew of the plan but failed to report it, he added. OK2SAY makes it possible for students to stop such attacks as well as suicides and other tragedies, Schuette said.
“We’re really trying to shed this whole notion of don’t be a snitch, a rat, a narc,” he said. “We’re embarking on a whole new culture of responsibility that says ‘you matter.’”
Safety Enhances Learning
OK2SAY was established by the Michigan Student Safety Act signed into law in December 2013. It began with lobbying efforts by Jo Spry, an assistant superintendent for Cedar Springs Public Schools, when she was superintendent of Cadillac Area Public Schools. As a principal in Colorado, she had helped implement a similar program called Safe2Tell following the 1999 Columbine school massacre.
“Kids will learn best when they feel safe and secure in their schools,” Spry said. “If you’re worrying about being bullied or not feeling safe in your school, your focus isn’t going to be on what’s happening in your textbooks or your classroom.”
OK2SAY has been promoted in Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids Public Schools and other area districts.
Superintendent Michael Shibler said Rockford will aggressively advertise it in school hallways and bathrooms, in addition to other mental-health and security initiatives such as high school Peer Listeners, to ensure students are “as safe as they possibly can be.”
School board President Tim Smith, a Kent County Sheriff’s deputy, said the program will help protect students as young as kindergarteners from talking to strangers online.
“Because we live in such a good community, I feel our kids are more trusting than others and more susceptible to being a victim,” Smith said.
The North Middle assembly brought that message home hard with videos about online predators and Michigan teens who died by suicide after being bullied.
Eighth-graders Claire Young and Ellie Phillips said by being so easy to access and ensuring confidentiality, OK2SAY should make a difference.
“It’s needed to make our school a safe place for us to learn, and know we’re always going to be safe here,” Ellie said.