Area schools tap into technology to tackle bullying
Feb. 9, 2018 at 12:18 a.m.
A new Pine Tree ISD smartphone app that lets students, parents and school staff report bullying is one way area school districts are using technology to tackle the issue head on.
The introduction of the Anonymous Alerts app coincides with the first observance in Pine Tree ISD of national Start with Hello Week anti-bullying campaign.
The app enables students, parents and staff to maintain their confidentiality while calling attention to bullying, safety concerns, student depression, substance abuse, family problems or other situations, said Pine Tree ISD spokeswoman Mary Whitton.
"I think it is just another resource that the district wanted to put in place to combat bullying," she said.
The system allows for one- or two-way anonymous encrypted communications between submitters and district administrators and other school staff. Users may remain anonymous or disclose their identities while submitting reports.
"Once you send a report, you can attach a screenshot or a photo or a video," Whitton said. She said the service will be monitored 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays during the school year.
To use the app, students, parents or others may visit the district's website at www.ptisd.org and click on the Anonymous Alerts button or text link to submit a report. Users also can download the Anonymous Alerts app onto smartphones and other devices.
The district supplies students with a username and password activation code, she said.
Whitton said she has no concerns about false reports, and district officials will conduct investigations immediately after receiving reports.
Growth of the app
Gregory Bender, president of Anonymous Alerts based in White Plains, New York, said 97 percent of alerts coming from Texas schools are credible.
The company launched the app four years ago and has seen its use grow to 5,000 schools nationwide, Bender said. Users include more than 150 school districts in Texas, including Mount Pleasant and Atlanta ISDs in East Texas.
School districts pay a license fee for use of the app.
Bender said the passage this past year of David's Law in Texas helped fuel the growth of the app in the state.
Under the law, Texas public schools are able to deal with cyberbullying that occurs off-campus, according to the David's Legacy Foundation. The law provides schools and school staff with strong protections from civil or criminal liabilities.
Spring Hill ISD doesn't have an app specifically to report bullying.
Its app, which can be downloaded from the district website at www.shisd.net, also enables students, parents, staff and others to see a child's grades, pay lunch money and access other information, district communications specialist Meredith Smeltzer said.
"We rolled it out the beginning of this school year just to give people another way to access what they need," she said.
Smeltzer said the app has a feedback feature to report matters that go to the attention of the superintendent's secretary and the information technology staff.
She said that feature can be used to report bullying or other incidents, but no one has done so. Instead, people have reported incidents by calling the schools, sending emails or contacting a principal's office.
Smeltzer said parents and others also can report bullying by logging onto the district's website, clicking "campuses," going to a campus page and then clicking the "bully report form" under informational links.
Longview ISD does not use such an app, but parents, students and other may report incidents of bullying by logging onto w3.lisd.org and clicking "Let's Talk!," district spokeswoman Elizabeth Ross said.
She said district stakeholders have used Let's Talk! — available for five years — to report any kind of incident.
"We have had people report concerns over teachers," Ross said. "We have had people report concerns over bus drivers."
Hallsville ISD uses an online form and a hotline and email address for reports of bullying.
The form is available at https://forms.hisd.com/bullying, or students and parents can call (903) 668-5990, ext. 5990, or send a text to (903) 660-7878. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Start with Hello Week was launched by a parent who lost a child during the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Hundreds of schools and youth organizations across the country are participating this week.
Start with Hello Week teaches students in grades 2 through 12 the skills needed to reach out and include those who might be dealing with chronic social isolation, according to the Sandy Hook Promise nonprofit organization.
Pine Tree Junior High observed Start with Hello Week on Wednesday with lessons taught in classrooms, and on Thursday, staff and students wore nametags, said Valerie Ogle, eighth-grade school counselor. She said she decided to bring Start with Hello Week to Pine Tree after reading literature about it.
"It is about educating students on social isolation and about speaking to students (on) how to start conversations with students they don't know," she said.
Ogle said students and staff wore nametags all day Thursday "just to promote the idea of saying 'hello.'"