Stuck in traffic due to an accident on U.S. 1? Notice a large police presence in your neighborhood? Are volunteers helping an injured animal?

Keys Weekly wants to know what’s happening in our communities, but try as we might, we can’t be everywhere at once. 

Our new Keys Weekly News Tips feature lets our readers text news tips and photos directly to the news team, at our offices in Key West, Marathon and Tavernier. Text your tips and photos to 305-250-2152.

The News Tips feature was created by Sugarloaf Key resident and technology entrepreneur Shawn Verne, who designed the service for the Keys Weekly and donated it to us to help foster informed communities.

Verne also created the School Text Tips program in 2018, two months after the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The service enables  students to discreetly report instances of school violence, weapons on campus, bullying, talk of suicide or substance abuse by sending a simple text message. 

Each school is assigned a specific phone number that students save in their contacts under whatever name they wish, Verne said. “So it doesn’t look as if they’re reporting something they may see on campus. It just looks like they’re sending a text.

“So many other programs require users to register a username, create an account, fill out a series of drop down menus and then receive a verification email,” he said. “That’s just too cumbersome. With School Text Tips, all they do is program a contact number into their phone and send a text to that contact whenever they have something to report.”

The students’ text messages go directly to designated personnel at each school, and, in some cases, local law enforcement officials.

Within the first few weeks of its installation at a charter school in Key West, the school had received 28 tips.

“For years, the schools have been able to send out mass communications to students and parents, but I wanted to be able to reverse that direction and enable students to easily feed information to the school faculty and administration, because they’re the ones who really know what’s happening,” Verne said when he launched School Text Tips. “The students are our eyes, ears and boots on the ground.”

Within the first few months, the program alerted school officials to one student’s suicidal thoughts and others to a weapon on campus. The program was later put in use by schools and districts in Miami, Homestead and other states.

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