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Tioga High School goes digital to curb bullying

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By Brad Nygaard

Free software designed to allow Tioga students to anonymously report bullying and inappropriate behaviors was introduced to Tioga high school students last week.

StopIt is an interactive application that lets students instantly communicate with administrators from their smartphones or other electronic devices.

Guidance Counselor Thomas Larson said since students are so well versed in electronic communications, it makes perfect sense for the school district to get involved too.

“Having the StopIt app is a good opportunity for them to anonymously get involved without being worried about getting in the middle of everything,” he said.

Senior Lindsy Campbell is one of the students who downloaded StopIt. She said being able to report anonymously is a good idea.

“Most kids won’t stand up,” she said. “They won’t actually say something to anybody because they’re scared of getting bullied more.”

Larson said that school administrators take very seriously incidents of bullying and inappropriate behavior, but they can’t always be aware of potential problems arising from electronic communications between students.

“I hope this is going to be an opportunity for us to get a better handle on some of the cyber stuff that’s going on,” he said.

While incidents taking place outside school are diffi cult to do anything about, many times those events migrate inside. Students having the ability to share that information is critical.

“All too often we get blind sided,” he said, and depending on the timeliness of the report, “it’s very difficult to do anything about it.”

Besides bullying, Larson said reportable incidents range from threats of violence to students who may harm themselves.

Keeping track

Larson said once administrators get a report, they have access to software that helps them respond.

“DocumentIt” receives every report, users can then create a ‘flag’ for the type of incident. They can log information about the students involved, and each incident gets a time and date stamp.

Larson said the program also alerts administrators to students making repeat appearances in the system as well as “hot spots” in the school, so appropriate actions can be taken.

DocumentIt also gives administrators the ability to log information about the types of actions taken, including closing a report if it is proven false.

Easy and economical

Larson said because the programs are “cloud” based, there was no need for the school to spend time installing programs on computers or waiting for delivery of software.

“We were up and running in about 10 minutes,” he said, at a cost of just $981 for two schools. Central Elementary will introduce the programs before the end of February.

District Superintendent Carolyn Eide said the elementary program will be somewhat different because some younger students don’t have cell phones, but she feels it will be useful.

Digital fingerprint

During the assembly, students watched a video featuring former police officer Tom Rich. He told them everything they post online is retrievable.

“When you post something on Facebook, who owns it?” he asked.

The answer is Facebook.

The same is true of the popular apps Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat he said. Even if students delete a post, Rich said, they’re still stored on a server somewhere.

“You should always think about what you post before you post it,” Tioga eighth-grader Ethan Trones said.

Rich agrees, telling students even if their accounts are “private” anything they send is considered public, and all a recipient has to do is save an image, post or text.

Widely available

In an email, StopIt founder and CEO Todd Schobel tells the Tribune the program is available to more than 6,000 schools and millions of students both in the U.S. and abroad. Besides K-12 schools, the company website says there are applications for college campuses and businesses.

Once implemented, the company claims student use is widespread. Their data shows more than 50 percent of students report more than once.

Larson said Tioga students caught on quickly.

“We had 24 reports in the first 24 hours,” he said Wednesday. “I didn’t realize it would be so easy and quick.”

Larson said being able to report anonymously will make students more comfortable, while increasing the administration’s ability to keep track of inappropriate behaviors.

Students don’t have to wait until the end of the day when they can quietly go into an administrator’s office or have to risk being seen doing so.

“They can get on their phone, send a message and they’re done,” said Larson.

More information on the system is available at: www.stopitcyberbully.com.

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