Office of School Safety Director explains how the newly formed leg of DOJ is working to keep Wisconsin's schools safe
Parents want to make sure their kids are safe when they attend schools across Wisconsin, and that responsibility falls in the hands of one woman.
CBS 58 sat down with the newly appointed director of the state Office of School Safety.
The office was formed this year, and Director Kristen Devitt was named as the head of the department in July.
"Even before I became a school resource officer, I was a child welfare worker, and I worked in both Chicago and the North Georgia mountains, so I worked in very rural and very urban environments working with children and families. That, when I became police officer, really helped me decide to become a school resource officer," said Devitt.
She was a school resource officer at Madison East High School and oversaw school resource officers in Beloit. She also taught other officers at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville and for the National Association of School Resource Officers.
"I have a background in social services, law enforcement and education so that really put me in a unique position to take on this role," said Devitt.
The first order of business for the office caught the eyes and ears of many. The legislature approved $100 Million dollars to be awarded to schools through grants. The schools could use the profits to make their schools safer.
"Effectively another 40 million dollars has gone out to bolster mental health resources in nearly 600 schools and school districts," said Attorney General Brad Schimel.
On October 22nd, the DOJ announced they rolled out the second round of grants.
About $6 Million of the $100 Million dollars is left to use for other projects.
"This money was already used to send therapists, a school resource officer with a therapy dog..." said Schimel during his announcement.
Some of that money, saved for a crisis, was used the other week at the Barron Area School District. Devitt made calls to bring therapists and therapy dogs to comfort students after Jayme Closs's disappearance.
The office held their first advisory committee meeting on October 25th. Educators, law enforcement, social workers, psychologists, even insurance professionals were all in the room. Also in attendance was John-Michael Keyes.
"In 2006 a gunman entered Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado and held seven girls hostage. While she was held hostage, my daughter sent me and my wife text messages, 'i love u guys.' Ultimately the gunman shot and killed Emily," said John-Michael Keyes, i love u guys foundation Executive Director.
Keyes started the 'i love u guys' Foundation and since 2009 it has offered programs, at no cost, to schools, districts, departments, agencies and organizations. Traveling to states across the country to keep schools safe, Keyes says many states don't have a similar program.
He hopes what he went through won't make parents afraid to send their children to learn each day.
"Schools are still statistically the safest places kids can be. I think the message is, give them a hug but also set them free. Wisconsin schools are really good schools. The kid that feels safe at school is going to do good in school. Let's embrace the strength that is in Wisconsin Schools.
Director Devitt wants parents to be partners in school safety. That's why she invited Keyes and other parents that have lost a child from school violence to be a part of the advisory committee.
"[They will] help guide us in our goals in the future and the types of things we need to put into place to keep our schools safe. We're trying to engage parents, educate parents, to report things they see that indicate someone is planning an attack. They're on social media too so they can be our eyes and our ears," said Devitt.
One of the goals for the Office of School Safety is to give students a tool to be the eyes and ears to keep schools safe. They plan to make a statewide virtual tip reporting system.
"A lot of schools who applied for grant funding from us applied to start their own anonymous tip reporting systems, but we recognize that there are some smaller school districts that may not have had access to enough money to pay for one of those systems," said Devitt.
she hopes the tip reporting system will allow someone to take a screenshot of something they see on social media and upload it to the system.
"Follow up can be done from there. we can deliver directly to law enforcement or the schools depending on the situation. a lot of times we're getting info from social media, but if we can't be on social media to see it, somebody can take a picture send to us and technology is on our side."