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In Wake Of School Shootings, Monroe County Encourages Students To Provide Anonymous Tips Via Text

From left, Monroe Sheriff's Office School Safety Director Patty Thompson, Monroe Superintendent Mark Porter, School Text Tips developer Shawne Verne and Key West Police Lt. Kathleen Ream announce the adoption of the text tips program Wednesday in Key West
Nancy Klingener
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A new program that allows students to provide information anonymously to school officials by text message will be used throughout the Monroe County school system in the fall.

Monroe Schools Superintendent Mark Porter announced Wednesday that School Text Tips will go from a pilot program at two schools to district-wide adoption.

The program uses text because that doesn’t require a special app or data plan — and it’s easy to use in an emergency, like a school shooting, said developer Shawn Verne, who lives in the Keys.

Students are “there every day, they talk to each other, they hear gossip, they hear rumors, the see things, they hear things,” he said. “So we said, ‘How can they communicate most easily, effectively and safely to get the messages out, versus going to social media?”

The system has been tried successfully at the Keys Collegiate Academy, a charter high school in Key West, and at Sugarloaf School, which has kindergarten through eighth grades, Porter said.

The system is intended to let students provide information that could prevent an attack or a potential suicide. But Verne said it could become even more important during a shooting or other crisis, when hundreds of eyes and ears are inside the school.

“To know who’s hurt, what did they see, how many shooters were there — whatever the situation was, for law enforcement that’s going to be priceless information,” he said.

The people receiving the texts — school administrators and resource officers — will not see the phone number that sent the message, but an ID assigned to that number by the program.

The system will cost the district $1.80 per student each calendar year — though Porter said Verne’s company is providing it for free to Sugarloaf School and Key West High School, where his sons are students.

The director of school safety for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and a Key West Police lieutenant also spoke in support of the program at Wednesday’s press conference.

Key West Police Lt. Kathleen Ream said some students aren’t comfortable approaching a school resource officer in person.

“This gives them another way to give us the information,” she said.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.