BROOKFIELD, Ohio — At the beginning of an assembly Wednesday at Brookfield High School, Principal Adam Lewis asked the students, by a show of hands, how many of them were active on at least two social media platforms.
Almost every student raised a hand.
The pervasiveness of social media allows students to connect with their classmates in a manner previously unknown, Lewis said. But it also exposes them to the increased hazard of bullying, even in their own homes.
To combat that, Brookfield High School unveiled a new tool — the STOPit app — which enables students to anonymously report bullying or any other problem in the schools.
“If you see something in the school that doesn’t look right, you can use this app,” Lewis said.
According to the STOPit website, founder Todd Schobel, a business consultant, came up with the idea after hearing about Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Canadian girl who was coerced into posting a topless photo of herself and committed suicide after the photo was circulated online. The app is widely used in New Jersey, where the company is based.
High school administrators unveiled the app during the assembly Wednesday afternoon, and had students download STOPit onto their cell phones. Lewis and Assistant Principal Kristen Foster discussed examples of bullying and the procedure of using STOPit.
Foster told students that bullying would be any behavior directed at a student either online or in person that is repetitive and threatening. In such an instance, students could use the app if they felt unsafe confronting the bully or reporting the acts in person.
While STOPit’s primary purpose is to report bullying, not just for schools but communities and workplaces, Lewis said recent events — chiefly the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — illustrates other potential benefits from the app, which could be used to alert district officials about possible threats to school safety.
The principal said students are aware, in the vast majority of cases, about possible school attacks by students.
“We’re really going to encourage our students to do that as well,” Lewis said.
The app also contains a button for messaging, which could be used for students who were thinking about harming themselves to contact a counselor.
Lewis said all reports through the app would be “thoroughly investigated.”
During the assembly, senior Akaia Oatis expressed skepticism about Lewis’ assertion.
“A lot of incidents on social media are reported in person and they’ve done nothing about it,” Oatis said.
“Well, that’s your opinion,” Lewis replied.
Afterward, she and her friend, Taeyana Ashley, both said they had been targeted by racist bullying that went unpunished. They said there also was no punishment in December of 2016, when students drew up a sign reading “Get Ready to Leave in a Trail of Tears” before a game against Girard.
“Trail of Tears” is the name of a forced relocation starting in the 1830s of Cherokees and other Native American tribes from Florida to present-day Oklahoma. Thousands of Native Americans died during the event.
Brookfield officials apologized for the sign.
Oatis said she believed the app would be used to start rumors, and both students said they would not use STOPit. Ashley said she would report incidents in person.
“I’ll continue to go face-to-face, so they get my emotion,” she said.
Lewis said the district has investigated in-person bullying reports, and that disciplinary investigations and punishments are kept private.
“Every incident is addressed in some way, shape or form,” he said. “They might not get the outcome they would like, but we investigate every report.
“Most people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.”
Juniors Dakota Miglets and Jeffrey Combine had a more positive assessment of the STOPit program. Combine said the presentation was interesting and both said they would use the app if it became necessary.
“I will if I need to,” Miglets said.
Lewis said he will need some time to determine whether the app will be effective.
“We’ll see in, I think, a couple of weeks, once the students start to use it,” he said.