County's tip line provides outlet for school
Prevention of violence, teen suicide are missions; its
anonymity, 24-hr availability boost its profile
By Suzanne Pardington, Contra Costa
Times, September 28, 2002
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Contra Costa County's new 24-hour school violence tip line has
tapped into a need for both students and parents: an anonymous
way to report and talk to a counselor about threats to
The first week, a parent called to report that two brothers
threatened to bring a gun to a Fremont middle school. The next
day, police found the brothers and the gun in a backpack.
On the last day of school, a parent and student from Pacheco
called together about a friend who had asked for a knife so
she could kill herself over a breakup with a boyfriend.
And Tuesday night, a student from East County told a parent
that a bully had threatened to beat up a friend for his lunch
money. The parent called the tip line.
Contra Costa Crisis Center volunteers, who answer the line,
intervened in these situations and a dozen more, helping to
prevent potential tragedies. They have handled up to 20 calls
a week since the tip line opened in January, but they want
even more teachers, parents and students to know about it.
Coordinators are spreading the word by visiting classes at
every middle and high school in the county by the end of the
school year. They also plan to attend PTA meetings and
distribute fliers, book marks and stickers with the phone
number on them.
"The more outreach we do, the more we expect the phone to be
ringing," said Edith Cordone, director of the Youth Violence
Prevention Program and the tip line.
Many school districts nationwide started anonymous tip lines
after the shootings at Columbine High, Santana High and other
schools in recent years.
Contra Costa County officials stepped up their efforts to
prepare for and prevent school violence after the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks, said Ray Penning, associate superintendent
at the county Office of Education.
The attacks brought about a heightened sense of awareness of
the potential for violence and renewed energy and unity among
law enforcement, schools and other agencies, he said.
In addition to the tip line, the agencies have offered
training on how to identify students or adults who might pose
a threat. In November, they plan to simulate a violent school
situation at the Office of Emergency Services in Martinez to
practice their response. Next week, all schools in the county
will conduct a "shelter-in-place" drill.
Tip line volunteers are trained to help with anything that
could potentially harm students, including bullying, drug and
alcohol abuse, hate crimes and homicidal or suicidal remarks.
"In this time that we live in, with the threats and potential
for violence, I hope that it would be reassuring that there is
someone there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to
threats and try to intervene to stop them," Penning said.
Some of the 125 calls to the tip line so far have been people
testing out the line and asking how it works. Some kids have
called as a joke, laughed and hung up. About 28 calls have
been substantive threats. In about half the cases, the
volunteer counselors helped the callers handle the situation
themselves and called the school or police in the rest.
Averting teenage suicide is a big concern of crisis center
volunteers, Cordone said.
So far this year in Contra Costa County, two teenage boys have
committed suicide. Last year, four boys and one girl killed
themselves, according to the crisis center.
During a visit to John Swett High School in Crockett on
Friday, Cordone told students in a ninth-grade social studies
class that the tip line is a safe place to call if they are
worried about violence.
"The best part of this program is it's completely anonymous,"
Cordone told the class. "We aren't interested in your name.
We're just interested in the information that you have."
Kristina Hanley, 14, said the tip line is a good idea, because
the call is secret and there is no chance of being punished
for reporting a problem.
"If someone has a problem, that's where they should go,"
Her teacher, Tony Tuttle, said teachers and administrators
would like to think that students would come to them if they
were troubled, but students may think the school staff is too
"Some people don't want to burden other people with their
problems, especially kids who are isolated or alone," he said.
"They think there's no one who cares for them."