Students and faculty at Pinckneyville Community High School will have one more weapon in their anti-bullying arsenal this semester.
With the roll-out of a new mobile app called STOP!T, students can take screenshots of derogatory social media posts and anonymously send them to teachers and administrators from their cellphones.
Principal Dustin Foutch said he felt heartsick when he learned that students had used social media website Yik Yak to post hateful comments about one of their peers.
“It really ticked me off,” he said. “I decided that no other student was going to have to go through that type of torment.”
The district spent about $1,800 to purchase user codes for the app in December, he said. Those codes will be mailed to students this week, and Foutch said they can start using the app right away.
Yik Yak allows users to post comments anonymously and view what nearby people are posting. The company has set-up “geofences” to prohibit use at middle and high schools, according to its website, but once students are off campus, they’re free to post.
Because the posts are anonymous, Foutch said STOP!T won’t help school staffers catch Yik Yak bullies — but it will allow them to support victims.
“We can get with the kid that’s being bullied … and provide them with strategies and counseling services to cope with the situation,” he said.
And the app will be doubly helpful when the social-media post isn’t anonymous, he said.
And with a new anti-cyberbullying law on the books in Illinois, Foutch said the timing is ideal.
House Bill 3281, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this year, allows schools to discipline students for cyberbullying, even if it takes place outside of school or after school hours.
Brad Lewis’ 15-year-old son Jordan committed suicide in October 2013. The Carterville High School sophomore cited bullying as a contributing factor in a suicide note he left behind.
Lewis has since filed a lawsuit against the school, among others.
His lawyer, Todd Mathews, said apps like STOP!T sound great, but it’s how administrators respond to reports of bullying that will make a difference in the end.
“The app is only going to work if somebody is monitoring it and willing to take action once a complaint or evidence is presented,” he said.
For Foutch, even the smallest complaint deserves immediate follow-up.
“One inappropriate online comment is not going to be tolerated,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of people working very hard to make sure our students are treated with love and dignity so they can focus on getting educated.”
School staffers also have set up an email account to receive reports of bullying, Foutch said.