Texas Schools Turn To Safety Anonymous Reporting Apps – Government Technology | Team Cansler

(TNS) – One way school leaders are working to prevent violence on campus is through anonymous reporting tools.

Bullying, sexual harassment, suicidal thoughts, threats of violence – these are all types of reports that students are required to report through these systems.

Texas schools use a variety of such tools, many of which are online or app-based.


Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, developed by Sandy Hook Promise, is used by Dallas and about a dozen other counties in Texas. STOPit, another popular provider, is used by schools in around 300 districts across the state, including Arlington, Frisco, Denton and Grand Prairie.

Gov. Greg Abbott is promoting a statewide anonymous reporting system called iWatchTexas. After the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde in May that killed 19 children and two teachers, he brought in “Walker, Texas Ranger” actor Chuck Norris to make public announcements about the tip line.

Here’s why officials are turning to such programs, and what experts say is needed for them to be effective.

STUDENTS CAN REPORT A NUMBER OF PROBLEMS

The primary goal is to detect threats like possible school shootings before they happen.

But the concerns school officials want to hear aren’t limited to possible violent crimes. They also want to know if a student is contemplating suicide, is being bullied, or is struggling with an eating disorder.

“It’s not just about terrorist activity or threats. That’s part of the game,” said James Caldwell, security coordinator at Frisco ISD, which uses the more common STOPit program. So far this school year, the district has received more than 600 tips or reports about the tool, most of them from students concerned about a friend.

“We educate our children each year on signs to look for in peers who may be depressed or have issues that they may need adult help with,” Caldwell said.

The state’s program, iWatchTexas, allows tipsters to choose from 30 categories, including dating violence, bullying and sexual misconduct.

WHO ANSWERS DIFFERENTLY

Leads submitted through iWatchTexas flow to one of the eight DPS fusion centers, a regional base of operations from which the agency’s staff receive and review crime leads. The information is then forwarded to the competent authority, e.g. B. a county or law enforcement agency.

In districts, administrators say they often have quicker access to reports submitted through other alternatives to iWatchTexas. Ultimately, they decide who should look at the report, which means cooperating with local law enforcement if necessary, or letting school staff respond.

In Frisco, for example, assistant principals typically take the lead, although the district has several employees who answer calls outside of business hours.

STUDENT BUY-IN IS ESSENTIAL

Students want to know someone is listening and take action when they report a threat, said Hsing-Fang Hsieh, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s National Center for School Safety.

“When students see their concerns being addressed, we see a stronger bond with the school and students feel more secure in the school,” Hsieh said.

Knowing what to report and how to respond is key, she said.

Hsieh was one of the authors of a study published in the Journal of School Violence, which found the Sandy Hook Promise system to be an “effective approach to improving perceptions of school safety, increasing reporting of early signs of violence, and reducing overall school violence.” ” is.

The school board agrees. That’s why some districts have their own high school students promoting the tools. For example, Frisco produced video accounts from teenagers on why it’s important to report behavior through the STOPit app.

TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION IS KEY

School officials say they need to be able to follow up on students who report concerns.

STOPit, the system used in Frisco, allows administrators to notify tipsters via instant messages.

Not only does this help them gather as much important information as possible, but it also helps anyone who raises a concern to feel heard and to know that someone is actually responding to the situation.

“That really helped the investigation to speak up,” Caldwell said. “There’s a lot of research showing that children are more likely to tell an adult they need help when they’re in a relationship with them.”

Whistleblowers can still remain anonymous when using STOPit, but the instant messaging feature allows officers to gather as much information as possible. Say Something Anonymous Reporting System has a similar feature, but iWatchTexas does not.

Analysts reviewing iWatchTexas reports can only reach the anonymous tipsters if contact information is provided.

Texas has implemented a statewide system, but few use it

After the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting, state officials touted iWatchTexas as a tool that districts across the state could use. It allows students, parents or community members to raise concerns through the app, online or by calling a hotline.

However, a recent investigation by The Dallas Morning News found that very few school districts promote or use iWatchTexas, and that the tool has generated far fewer tips or reports than programs like STOPit or Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, which are more widely used across the state .

And unlike other programs that rely on intensive and ongoing training with students and administrators, iWatchTexas has no student-specific training elements, DPS officials confirmed to The News.

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(The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and discussion of pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab journalism.)

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