Bullying. Cyberbullying. Harassment. Violence. Weapons. Truancy. Student Achievement. While most school leaders want to focus their attention on the last item mentioned in that list, student achievement, school districts are finding themselves overwhelmed with school safety issues and constantly working to investigate and respond to situations, leaving fewer and fewer resources to improve learning and achievement.
So, what can be done to improve student safety and prevention efforts, and in turn, provide students with an environment they feel secure in to excel and expand their learning objectives?
In many situations, gaps exist between school administrators and policy, and what is actually happening on buses, in locker rooms, in hallways, at sporting events, and online on Facebook. In fact, in recent studies, 65% of victims said bullying was not reported by them or others to teachers or school officials. Even when a bullying victim had suffered injury, 40 percent of the time the students said the bullying was not reported. It is impossible for school leaders to prevent something they don’t know about it, so it is critical for districts to improve these numbers and encourage their student and staff to report ongoing harassment and other concerns.
Many school districts have installed cameras to monitor their environments, which may be necessary, but what if schools also utilized the hundreds (or thousands) of “cameras” they already have walking the halls of their schools each day?
Two Oklahoma School Districts are taking advantage of an innovative incident and risk management service to empower their students, parents and staff to proactively report concerning behaviors to district personnel. Tulsa Public Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools are using TIPS, a web-based solution from Awareity, Inc., that allows for the anonymous reporting (via web or phone) of weapons possession, drug/alcohol use, harassment or intimidation, school vandalism, physical assault, threats of violence, suicide risk, abuse or neglect and other incidents.
TIPS ensures all incident reports are tracked, documented and responded to in a proactive manner. With a web-based platform, school administrators can access on-demand reporting to see if/when reports are made, when team members received and acknowledged each report, and what steps were taken to address the report. Team members collaborate through the platform to share ongoing findings and help connect all the dots needed to ensure a safe and responsive approach.
At Tulsa Public Schools, Tenna Whitsel, District Coordinator of Student Services, knew their district was not doing enough to comply with the Office of Civil Rights requirements for bullying and harassment. A Dear Colleague Letter sent to all schools in October 2011, made it clear that all schools are required to investigate bullying incidents and take immediate action to stop harassment and prevent its recurrence. If the school knows or reasonably should know about student harassment and fails to address its effects and take appropriate action, they are opening themselves up to federal investigations and expensive lawsuits.
Whitsel took immediate steps to implement the TIPS platform at the start of the second semester in the 2011-2012 school year. In its first 6 months of use, TPS saw immediate success across its schools. Below are just some of the situations in which TIPS was utilized.
Intervene/Prevent – Prevent the Escalation of Bullying – A parent used the TIPS reporting system to report incidents of physical bullying towards her daughter and several of her peers. The “bully” was so effective that the student was terrified at the sight of her in the hallway. Once the parent completed the online report, elementary school administration were able to quickly intervene and prevent further bullying. This also gave the administrators an opportunity to provided school-wide awareness & education regarding bullying.
Intervene/Prevent the Escalation of Cyber Bullying – A female student completed a TIPS report online, with assistance from her school counselor. Incident initially began as “cyber-teasing” on Facebook from another female peer at same school, teasing victim about a recent breakup with a male peer at same school. Administrators were able to meet with victim & parent, provided information and counsel regarding safe use of social media sites online. This also provided the middle school administration with an opportunity to raise student awareness of the negative effects of cyberbullying among students.
Intervene/Prevent – Prevent Self Harm – A high school teacher completed a TIPS report online, stating she was very concerned about the behavior of one of her English students. This female student had recently informed the teacher that she was thinking suicidal thoughts and was uncomfortable going to her next hour due to some of the students in the class. The HS Social Worker was notified, coordinated mental health services for student and family and provided a free assessment, which resulted in successful intervention and prevention of suicide.
Now well into the 2nd year of TIPS, Tulsa continues to receive feedback from students and parents and work with their school principals and counselors to immediately address concerns and prevent incidents from escalating into tragedies.
In the fall of 2012, Oklahoma City Public Schools launched the TIPS platform and their 587-STOP reporting hotline (also provided by Awareity). Initially designed to gather anonymous reports from students and parents regarding bullying and student safety concerns, Safe Schools Coordinator, Tracy Alvarez, immediately saw the value in TIPS and expanded the use of the program to document and track truancy cases, as well as bus and transportation issues. Now, if a bus driver or monitor sees concerning behavior on the way to or from school, they can immediately report concerns to the district’s transportation director, as well as the school’s principal for investigation. School administrators can quickly address concerns and also utilize ongoing reports to determine if particular bus routes or areas within schools need more supervision.
Many schools fear implementing an anonymous reporting capability within their schools will overwhelm staff with false or misleading reports. After speaking with Tulsa and OKCPS, it is clear that students are not interested in falsely getting their peers in trouble. In fact, victims and bystanders just want bullying and harassment to stop and are overwhelmingly supporting the new system. The schools have also been able to delegate incident types and locations for reports so each individual school within a district is responsible for handling the reports concerning their students. TIPS is actually saving valuable time and resources by eliminating paper-based student files, spreadsheets on behaviors and weekly meetings to discuss at-risk students.
By empowering your students, staff, faculty, parents and community members to be responsible for their own safety and the safety of others within your school districts, schools can continue to improve student safety ongoing. Is your school taking control of your learning environment?