By Richard Leitner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Reporting bullying at six Hamilton public schools will soon be just a smartphone touch away thanks to a new app that lets students to do so anonymously.
Superintendent Pam Reinholdt said a three-month pilot project set to launch on Feb. 27 uses students’ way of communicating to address a problem that is often under-reported because of fear of reprisals.
The project will test the app, known as TipOff, at Saltfleet District, Glendale, Westdale, Sir Winston Churchill and Waterdown District high schools, and Cardinal Heights middle school.
Students with an iPhone or Android smartphone will be able to download the app for free and report bullying by phone or text to a central operator, who will pass the information on to the appropriate school for follow up.
“We really liked what the program looked like and what it might be able to do, and it does respond to students’ use of technology, which is their way of communicating now,” Reinholdt said.
“If they report that a student is being bullied, we could have a heightened supervision when that student’s around to keep an eye (out) for whatever is being reported,” she said.
“If they identify the bully, that investigation would proceed the same way it would with a face-to-face report.”
A student survey last year found verbal abuse is the most common form of bullying, with about one in five reporting that they were victims. Students were most likely to be bullied for their appearance, with grades and sexual orientation other top reasons.
Reinholdt said the board spent about $10,000 to develop the app, which costs $300 per school per year to run, after Saltfleet District tried to establish one for students there.
“We decided that we would broaden the scope and have a few more schools in it so we could have a better idea of how it works,” she said, noting the project chose one school from each geographic area.
“We did that also to have some consistency in what the app would look like, what the app would do and so on, so that if it is successful and we decide to adopt it for the system, then the app would be consistent school to school.”
The project comes as the public board’s latest report on bullying, suspensions and expulsions shows mixed progress on student behaviour for the 2011-12 school year.
The number of elementary students suspended for bullying rose by 11 over the previous year, to 74, while overall suspensions dropped by 216, to 2,177. There were two expulsions, one fewer than the year before.
For high school students, bullying suspensions dropped by 11 over the year before, to 16, while total suspensions rose to 2,284, an increase of 156. There were 18 expulsions, down from 37 the previous year.
Boys continued to be more than twice as likely as girls to be suspended and the lion’s share of misdeeds are listed as “other board-set infraction.”
Reinholdt said this category includes cyber-bullying and other behaviour that violate the code of conduct.
She said a new policy that will be released for public consultation shortly will require that these suspensions specify the policy or code of conduct being breached.
“We’re going to try to break that down to get a better picture of that because ‘other’ doesn’t give us any information in which to offer some in-service (support) or to promote awareness around those particular issues,” she said.