District to expand use of SafeSchools tip-line

Raghav Raj | Staff Writer

At Mason City Schools, administrators are transforming the SafeSchools tip-line into more than just a way to report textbook threats throughout the school. 

For seven years, concerned Mason students have been utilizing the line to alert the school administration on safety issues. But in a moment where students are asking Mason’s administration to step up and take initiative in hearing their complaints — some even taking to anonymous social media “tea” accounts to have their frustrations heard — the administrative team is expanding the scope of the tip-line in order to help support their students and address their grievances.

A big part of this administrative team behind the SafeSchools tip-line is Public Information Officer Tracey Carson, who’s been heavily involved with the tip-line for as long as it’s been in Mason.

“We have watched it really grow in use, and I’d like to think it’s because we’ve been intentional about it,” Carson said. “When we were first using the tip-line, it was only used when people were talking about a concern about drugs or a concern about violence. Over the years, it’s become a bigger vision of what safety really is.”

This vision, as Carson explains, includes addressing the mental health concerns that feel especially pervasive in today’s youth. “What we’ve seen in the last, I would say, five years is that about 50% of our tips are often about students concerned about classmates at risk of self harm, suicide, or suicidal ideation.” In characterizing the team’s response to these tips, Carson said “if it is someone who needs help right away, we’re able to make sure that we’re offering the support required, categorizing those reports to make sure that they get to the right people.”

Another part of this vision consists of changing how the district responds to “acts of bias,” as Carson calls it. The district is aiming to take a more hands-on approach in tackling racism, sexism, homophobia, and other bigotry through the formation of an anti-bias response team, one that’s dedicated to handling these incidents as they’re reported on the SafeSchools tip-line.

Alongside Carson, other members of the anti-bias response team include Deputy Superintendent Amy Brennan, as well as former MMS Principal and current Chief Talent Officer for the MCS Human Resources department Tonya McCall. 

While discussing Mason’s attempts to address incidents of bias in their schools, Brennan explained the thought process behind creating the team over the summer as a way for Mason City Schools to go above and beyond in empowering students while cracking down on discriminatory conduct.

“This initiative really emerged from hearing about how our students may experience incidents of bias in schools, and either they don’t know where to share that, or they’ve dealt with these patterns of bias for so long that they’re afraid they won’t get an appropriate response,” Brennan said. “We want to be able to have a more proactive response to these incidents of bias, to put in place an important additional layer of support for these students.”

According to McCall, the district went through many different options for offering this support. They had even developed some other tools for students and families to utilize, but they always seemed to circle back to retooling the SafeSchools tip-line’s infrastructure to provide students with a resource they knew and could trust.

“We always came back to the SafeSchools tip-line because we know that it’s the tool people are familiar with,” McCall said. “It allows us to keep that anonymity in place for students who’d feel uncomfortable otherwise — even if it makes our jobs a lot harder — because at the very least, we can still look for patterns and try to map out these incidents of bias and see how we can tackle them effectively.”

McCall sees these additions to the tip-line as an essential way for Mason City Schools to build trust between the district and the community behind it. As she said, “It’s just, to me, the next iteration of progress, of trying to make sure that we’re putting things in place in response to what our communities, our kids, and our people want.”

It seems that Carson, who has treated the tip-line as a growing “passion project” for as long as it’s been at Mason, agrees with the sentiment. “We have always wanted this tip line to be a place where we’re able to support whoever needs help,” said Carson. “This is how we foster that sense of community, that authentic inclusion that Mason strives for. This is how we care for each other.”