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To Promote Student Safety, Waynesboro Turns to Technology

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With the rollout of a school security app, Waynesboro Public Schools is joining the growing number of districts nationwide that are turning to technology to promote student safety.

Students, parents and staff at all Waynesboro public schools can now use the STOPit app to anonymously report bullying, violence or other concerning behavior in and out of the classroom. Since the app was introduced in the division earlier this month, administrators have already investigated potential incidents of bullying and emotional distress after users submitted tips through STOPit.

“[The app is a] win-win for us because we were able to provide the service at no charge to the school division or the users, and shortly after implementing this option we’ve been able to assist some students with issues that maybe we wouldn’t have known about otherwise,” said Ryan Barber, director of student services for Waynesboro Public Schools.

STOPit allows for two-way messaging, so when a user files a report from a mobile app or a web browser, the school administrator who receives the report can write back. Users can also send pictures with their reports.

Administrators can also connect users with mental health resources, like a suicide hotline, if they report that they are struggling or might harm themselves, said Neil Hooper, STOPit’s chief revenue officer.

Plus, the app is entirely anonymous, meaning students can speak up about bullying or illicit behavior without fearing retaliation from their peers, he said.

“If you talk to anybody in K-12 they’ll tell you that one of their greatest fears is being labeled as a tattletale, so we wanted to offer them the ability to absolutely do the right thing but do that with anonymity,” Hooper said.

Anonymity can also lead to some abuse of the platform. So far, some students have submitted “silly” reports, like complaints about homework, Barber said, but the bad tips died down after the first few days. If false reports are a consistent problem, schools can find out if a large number are coming from one device and message that user or cut off their access to the app.

Three years after STOPit’s launch, about 2,850 schools use the app, Hooper said. Its founder Todd Schobel came up with the idea after hearing the story of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Canadian girl who was bullied for years and killed herself in 2012.

Amanda Klinger, director of programs for the Educator’s School Safety Network, said the organization sees “a lot” of apps aimed at keeping students safe.

She said they can be a helpful tool but cautioned against what she said is an increasing tendency among some educators to rely on technology for school safety rather than building relationships with students, which can help students feel comfortable reporting problematic behavior to adults.

“I get very concerned when we’re outsourcing that work to technology. Every school in America has a teacher in every classroom, so have we trained those folks first to do that work?” Klinger said.

Barber said the app is another resource for administrators to help students in troubling situations they might not have known about otherwise.

“We can’t see everything and know everything that’s going on,” he said. “Now we’re able to respond and act.”

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