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Iowa launches new app to anonymously report school safety concerns

governor kim reynolds speaks at a press conference with the iowa department of public safety
Katarina Sostaric
/
IPR
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a new school violence reporting program as part of the Governor's School Safety Bureau.

Iowa leaders launched a new website, app and hotline Tuesday for anonymously reporting concerns related to school safety. It’s called “Safe and Sound Iowa”and can be used by students, teachers, parents and community members.

The program is one of several initiatives included in the Governor’s School Safety Bureau. Gov. Kim Reynolds last year dedicated $100 million of federal COVID relief funding to the bureau.

“There is nothing more important to parents than knowing that their children are safe at school, from the time they arrive each day, to when they return home,” Reynolds said. “And as governor and as a grandmother to school-aged children, it’s equally important to me.”

Special Agent in Charge Don Schnitker, who leads the Governor’s School Safety Bureau, said the new school violence reporting program will be available to all public school districts and accredited nonpublic schools.

“This tool helps identify and provide intervention to students in crisis before they hurt themselves or others,” Schnitker said. “Safe and Sound Iowa is designed to prevent violence, unlawful possession of weapons, self-harm, and other threatening behavior that affects Iowa youth.”

He said messages and calls will be answered by dispatchers 24/7, and those who report concerns can remain anonymous.

Schnitker said in 80% of school shootings, at least one other person knew what was going to happen.

“That is why having a tool like Safe and Sound Iowa available in every school is critical,” he said.

Safe and Sound Iowa is free to use, and schools can decide whether or not to participate.

Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Steve Bayens said students should still call 9-1-1 if there’s violence actively happening at school. But the new app can be used for other concerns and is anonymous.

“If it’s just a concerning behavior like, ‘I’m starting to see a friend of mine kind of start to spiral, making some scary comments, showing a sudden fascination with guns, is harming animals in the backyard, something along those lines, but I don’t want to be the…snitch,’ then this is a means to provide that information anonymously and safely,” Bayens said.

The program was coincidentally launched on the same day that Iowa wasfacing a wave of false reports of school shootings as part of a “swatting” hoax. Bayens said the false reports came through 9-1-1 calls, not the new app, website or hotline.

He said the immediate two-way communication through Safe and Sound Iowa can help reduce false reports of school violence.

Other school safety plans in motion

State officials also gave updates on other initiatives through the Governor’s School Safety Bureau.

Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department Director John Benson said 1,260 school buildings across the state have had security risk assessments in recent months. More than $80 million of the funding for the bureau is meant to go to schools to make security improvements, and Benson said he wants all of that work to be completed by the end of 2024.

Bayens said the state has partnered with a third-party vendor to provide critical incident mapping of schools to help minimize response time during emergencies.

He said the state is also making emergency radios available to all K-12 school buildings so they can immediately connect with first responders. And that DPS is actively monitoring threats related to schools.

Bayens said DPS is making active shooter training available to any entities that request it, including schools, houses of worship and businesses. He said more than 1,700 educators got active shooter response training in the past year, and more than 700 educators got Stop The Bleed training.

Reynolds said she is proud nearly all of the strategies in the school safety plan have been deployed.

“I think it’s my, and parents’, expectation that schools will take advantage of the services you heard about today,” she said.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter