School districts turn to technology to combat bullying

By Alison DeNisco District Administration, January 2018

Nevada recently launched an online reporting system for parents and students, joining a handful of other states and districts in efforts to combat bullying.

Colorado was first to create an online bullying reporting tool in 2004, five years after the Columbine shooting. Since then, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah and Michigan have passed laws mandating the creation of statewide online reporting systems.

In other states, individual districts and insurance providers have developed reporting systems. New York City will spend $8 million on a reporting website, set to launch in 2019, and other anti-bullying efforts.

More than 1 out of 5 students report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Estimates are far higher for certain subgroups, including students with disabilities, and those who identify as LGBT.

Despite the rise of cyberbullying, bullying is still far more likely to occur on school grounds than online, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“An online reporting system can bring greater awareness to what’s happening on and off a school’s campus that an administrator may not be aware of,” says Joe Bruzzese, president of the International Bullying Prevention Association, a nonprofit focused on bullying prevention.

Why anonymous reporting works

Most schools use a paper-based reporting form, which students can complete in the main office. An online option can be more effective because it gives students another outlet to report harassment that occurs outside of school hours, says Daniel Kelley, president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

It also takes away the stigma of being spotted filling out the form.

The majority of students who report bullying are not the targets, but concerned bystanders, Bruzzese says. “If they are given the opportunity to report something in a way that doesn’t compromise their own safety, then they will,” he adds.

And students in schools with effective tip lines also tend to report personal issues such as self-harm and public-safety concerns such as weapons on campus.

“Kids want to feel safe when they show up at school,” Bruzzese says. “If there’s something threatening that safety, and they have a way to tell somebody who can make a difference, they’re going to.”

Administrator action

A number of vendors provide anonymous, online reporting tools to schools and districts. Before purchasing, administrators should ask the providers how many schools they support, the types and frequency of incidents reported, and how easy the system is to use.

Administrators must identify staff members who will monitor the online system, and create clear plans for addressing reported incidents.

Documenting the entire process is key because parents may allege that administrators did not address an incident adequately.

“If a school district does not have documentation, you open yourself up to litigation and lawsuit,” Bruzzese says. “Whether it’s an online reporting system or traditional paper and pencil, there needs to be some level of documentation to show that you’ve responded.”

Reprinted from District Administration magazine website www.districtadministration.com. Used by permission.

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