Ellensburg High School and Morgan Middle School have rolled out a new application named “STOPit” which allows students to anonymously report incidents or suspicious behavior to school administrators.
Teachers shared a short video with students recently during advisory period about the app. After they download it, students are given a code to sign in as either a high school student or a middle school student. The app allows the students to report by two-way text messaging, photos or videos, and is available in multiple languages.
Ellensburg High School Vice Principal Neil Musser said his office has received 15 reports so far, of which four or five have been false reports.
“The false ones are things like ‘I hate ketchup on my hamburger,’” Musser said. “That’s a kid wanting to be a smart aleck.”
When that happens, Musser will reply that the app is a serious program and if further false reports are filed that particular account will be disabled.
When a real report is filed, the administration investigates immediately. For example, if a report says a student is in the upstairs bathroom talking about hurting themselves, an administrator will go to the bathroom and check to see if everything is OK.
State Rep. Matt Manweller R-Ellensburg, has been working on legislation called “Students Protecting Students” to provide these kind of apps for high schools for about four years. After the Parkland, Florida, shooting this year, he said he was promised it would pass, but that promise fell through during budget negotiations.
“As a consolation prize, they put $750,000 in school safety grants into the budget and said this app I’d been working on would be eligible,” Manweller said.
Manweller is working to direct the funding to school districts like Ellensburg.
“Talking to kids, they wanted a few things,” he said. “One: ease of use. They can’t remember numbers or emails. Two: it has to be anonymous. They don’t want to be the narc, they don’t want to be the tattletale, and three: they have to believe the adults will follow up if they do something.”
CHEAPER THAN HOTLINE
Ellensburg School Board member Jonathan Leonard said the district is using the app in place of the old anonymous hotline it used, and it is cheaper than the hotline. Through the pilot program, the school will be able to collect data about how many kids are using the app and how they are using it.
Leonard said he thinks simply the app’s presence will deter some of the behavioral issues the district has been facing.
“After a while, the kids know where all the cameras are in the building they know where they can do things and get away with it,” Leonard said. “Where as with an app like this where it’s anonymous, students don’t have to face the wrath of other students. They may get videos and pictures taken of things that otherwise wouldn’t get taken.”
Musser said the national attention surrounding school shootings and safety in general has created a culture of students wanting to speak up. Thirteenth district lawmakers including Manweller, Sen. Judy Warnick R-Moses Lake, and Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, came to talk with students last week, where the kids expressed an interest in stopping things before they escalated, but didn’t want their names to be attached to it.
The district also is looking into installing the app on school-issued Chromebooks, which all students fifth-grade and up have, in case a student doesn’t have his or her own smartphone.