School safety hotline plan advances in Nebraska Legislature despite price tag

School safety hotline plan advances in Nebraska Legislature despite price tag

Nebraska lawmakers took a step Thursday toward making schools safer from threats of violence, including school shootings, suicide and bullying.

On a 33-5 vote, senators gave first-round approval to legislation that would create a statewide hotline where people could anonymously report concerns about students who may be thinking about harming themselves or other people.

Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, who introduced the bill (LB322), argued that the program would be well worth the $900,000-a-year cost. The bill would expand on a successful pilot program from Douglas County.

“When you think of the good that will come out of it, this is an amount we can swallow,” he said. “This can save lives and will save lives.”

Williams said Safe2HelpNE, the Douglas County hotline, has gotten nearly 500 reports since its launch last year. Half of the reports concerned middle school students and almost as many were about high schoolers, but 12% concerned those in elementary grades.

At least four reports involved a potential threat to a school, while 87 concerned students who appeared suicidal and two were from teachers about potentially suicidal colleagues. Other reports involved bullying, depression, drugs and even inappropriate behavior by teachers.

The hotline connects people to trained crisis counselors at Boys Town, who can offer help and resources immediately. The counselors also alert local threat assessment teams set up in participating school districts.

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