Lebanon High School students were given access recently to a new tool that will allow them to play a role to combat everything from threats of violence to cyberbullying.
It’s an app called STOPit that gives students the ability to safely and anonymously report anything they’re concerned about directly to a school official. Not only does the app empower students to stand up for themselves and others, but it also provides administrators with the insight needed to keep students safe.
Students are asked to download the app, enter an access code provided by school officials, and they can send anonymous reports. School officials said the reports should contain as many details as possible. Any evidence they have such as screenshots, pictures or video clips can also be included in the report.
Once a report is filed, it’s sent to an administrator, counselor or school resource officer who will respond to the student as quickly as possible in an exchange that’s similar to an online chat. Neither the student nor the faculty member or SRO will know the identity of the person with whom they’re communicating. All incident reports and conversations will be stored in a system, which allows the school to maintain thorough records on complaints or incidents.
Lebanon High School junior Julia Stranahan said she’s heard of the app, but administrators haven’t given students access to it to her knowledge.
“I haven’t heard anything about it at school, but I’ve heard people talking it,” she said.
Stranahan said bullying is a real problem at the school, and she hopes the app will help correct that.
“I think it’s a big problem,” she said. “There was a fistfight in the hallway just today at the school. Simple stuff happens all the time that people don’t realize is bullying. They don’t realize it until it goes too far.
“I think that would be extremely helpful, because I think a lot of people at Lebanon High School see bullying happening. I think it would remove the stigma of turning someone in if they can just do it from their phone anonymously. I think it’s a really good idea.”
Schools and universities that already use the app said it helps them do more than just react to things like harassment and inappropriate behavior. It also acts as a deterrent, according to Wilson County Schools spokesperson Jennifer Johnson.
Johnson said it’s important for students to know all reports will be investigated fully to determine whether there is enough evidence to take action against the accused student. She also said she anticipates false reports will be made using the app.
“When a student files a report, we’ll investigate the claim and do everything in our power to get to the bottom of it, but if there’s no evidence or witnesses to substantiate the claim, it’ll be very difficult for us to do anything, except create a record of it. This isn’t some kind of witch hunt,” Johnson said.
“The goal of the app is to create a mechanism for gathering information. If we have a report on file, at least teachers and staff can be more vigilant. Most bullies tend to be repeat offenders. If there’s a student who we receive reports on over and over and over again, we can probably deduce that there’s a legitimate problem going on.”
Stranahan said she believes there likely wouldn’t be a rise in false reports on the new app.
“Just like any normal report of bullying, I think there are false reports all the time,” she said. “I guess it would be taken care of the same way as if someone reported it in person.”
Lebanon High School principal Scott Walters hopes students will use the app to report any situation they perceive to be dangerous, whether it’s to themselves or a classmate.
“The anonymous feature gives students the opportunity to report anything they want without being fearful,” Walters said. “If a student is being harassed by an adult, we need to know about it. If a student is a threat to themselves, we need to know about it.”
Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said the app is an innovative solution to a complex problem.
“Technology is here to stay, but this gives educators a way to finally get their arms around some of the pitfalls that are also associated with it,” Wright said. “This app empowers students to partner with us in a way that’s not so intimidating.”
In the coming months, the STOPit app will also be launched at the county’s other high schools, Wilson Central, Mt. Juliet and Watertown. About 60 schools statewide currently use the app.