Funding for 24/7 student tip line ending by 2024

The OSS launched the Speak Up, Speak Out tip line in 2020, following the Parkland shooting in Florida
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 2:58 PM CDT
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WISCONSIN, Wis. (WSAW) - As kids head back to school, students and districts have a safety resource they can lean on in the state’s Office of School Safety. The future of that office, under the Wisconsin Department of Justice, is uncertain after this school year because it doesn’t have long-term funding.

The Department of Justice’s Office of School Safety, or OSS, was created and started providing resources to schools in 2018. That includes a 24/7 anonymous tip line allowing anyone to report situations where they may need help or see something concerning.

“There’s nothing more important than keeping our kids safe,” said Wisconsin DOJ Attorney General Josh Kaul.

“Some of the examples we’ve had is if a student has been vaping. I know there was some vaping at Marathon County Park and somebody reported that. Or situations that are more serious like harassment or bullying,” said Cale Bushman, Director of Pupil Services at the Wausau School District.

In extreme cases, the tip line helps students with self-harm concerns or even life-threatening situations like targeted violence.

“We were contacted by somebody who was worried that a friend might harm themselves. We were able to get resources out there to support that student,” said Kaul.

In 2020, following the Parkland shooting in Florida, the OSS launched the Speak Up, Speak Out tip line.

“We need to be doing what we can to prevent that kind of thing from happening in Wisconsin, and one of the vital tools we have to do that is the Office of School Safety,” said Kaul.

Kaul says they’re looking for an investment from the state to keep the OSS running, but it’s looking like legislators don’t want to make that investment.

“That would be pennywise and pound foolish,” said Kaul.

If the tip line doesn’t continue, Bushman says they’ve had their own tip line before, and could probably do it again.

“It’s probably not super costly for us, but there are some benefits to having the SUSO program,” said Bushman.

The tip line has connections with local law enforcement and school officials, which Kaul says would be harder for schools to replicate on their own.

“You want to have a unified approach across the state if you can. You shouldn’t have school safety issues depending on whether a particular district has the funds that it needs to set aside,” said Kaul

“Anytime that we can have students who are feeling more comfortable or have more avenues to communicate with the adults in the district, the better I feel about it,” said Bushman.

Some argue there’s already a 988 crisis line. Kaul believes that while it’s a great program, it’s more of a general line and doesn’t focus as much on school safety. The staff of the tip line work with critical incident response teams and are specialized to work with students. The office provided support 71 times for those teams impacted by a traumatic incident last year alone.