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5 Effective Steps to Solving the Bullying Epidemic—and the Tools to Get You There

Real-time incident reporting tools can provide an opportunity for early intervention for bullied or suicidal students

As the use of social media and mobile technology has grown at an exponential rate, so has the problem of bullying. To address this issue and keep up with federal and state anti-bullying mandates, administrators need a solution that utilizes student “insider” knowledge to prevent campus violence, drug use, and more. This web seminar, originally broadcast on January 24, 2013, addressed how crime reporting tools can be used to address these problems, as well as how to push user adoption and measure progress.

Paul Myer
Chief Revenue Officer

Seventy-one percent of students today say that bullying is an ongoing problem in their schools. Today, bullying has been exacerbated by the use of social media and cell phones in the school environment. According to research by Dartmouth University, in 2008, about 61 percent of students used social media. Four years later, that number jumped to 95 percent. Today, it’s not unusual to see fifth or sixth graders walking around with cell phones.

Because the use of these platforms is so widespread, it’s not surprising to hear that 50 percent of teens say they have been bullied online or via text. There are funding and accountability challenges to the fight to prevent bullying in schools. Forty-nine states have passed anti-bullying legislation. There’s also the federal requirements under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA compliance requires schools to have bullying education for teachers and administrators. CIPA’s curriculum teaches appropriate online behavior and use of social networking, as well as addresses cyber-bullying.

To maintain E-Rate funding, administrators must be vigilant about maintaining CIPA compliance. In California, federal funding is based on attendance. With 160,000 students nationally missing school daily due to fear of bullying or attack, California alone could lose up to $8 million a day due to bullying-related absences. I think the answer to this issue involves increased communication.

The U.S. Department of Education sponsored a report after the Columbine tragedy. We learned from that report that in 81 percent of violent incidents in U.S. schools, someone other than the attacker had prior knowledge, but failed to report it or the incident failed to get logged in the appropriate system. However, no one wants to be a snitch or wants to be targeted by a bully or attacker if the instigator finds out who reported their plans to authorities. All of these factors illustrate that schools need to provide students with a safe, confidential way to report what they know without fear of retribution.

Safe2Tell is an organization that started working with PublicEngines immediately after the Columbine tragedy. Safe2Tell is a nonprofit that provides a single platform that allows for easy access to students, teachers, and parents. Users can text confidential tips through the PublicEngines platform. We also recently announced a new mobile app that works on Apple and Android devices. Coupled with curriculum resources and awareness, since its launch, Safe2Tell has received 6,000 tips, intervened in more than 1,000 suicides, and prevented 28 planned school attacks.

Let’s look at the five steps you should keep in mind as you implement your own anti-bullying efforts.

  • First, you have to go where the students are. You have to leverage the technology they leverage. As part of our system, we have a provision for people to phone in tips. However, texting is still our number one mode. And even that is quickly being overtaken by our mobile application, which allows students to send in pictures or videos with their reports.
  • Second, you have to have confidential reporting. You will lose the support of students pretty quickly if they see there are consequences for reporting bullying, cyber- bullying, suicide threats, drugs, or violence on campus.
  • Third is the necessity for a platform that is available to all parents and teachers, as well as students.
  • Fourth, you need a robust feature set available in that platform that covers all key areas. It is important to have not just tip reporting, management, and tracking, but also an alerting platform so you can have a single point of communication for teachers and parents. One problem we saw during the Sandy Hook tragedy was that there were multiple methods of communication getting information out to the parents, creating confusion. An alerting method is key to your strategy.
  • Finally, you need a platform that allows you to share information seamlessly with your local law enforcement.
Sgt. Jeff Hicks
Blount County (Tenn.)
Sheriff’s Office and
School Resource Officer
Blount County Schools

Blount County Schools adopted the TipSoft program in 2010. Since then, it has extensively evolved and been embraced by students, teachers, law enforcement, parents, and the greater community.

We have a broad spectrum of students coming from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in our district. They are all meshed together in our large high schools. When we get a tip from one of our campuses, it goes out simultaneously to the school resource officer, principal, and assistant principals, most of whom have TipSoft on their phones for immediate notification. We have been very lucky that we have SROs in every building, from elementary to high school. We are blessed to have the backing from the sheriff and director of schools to have someone in all of our buildings every day, which allows for quick incident response time.

A student-lead initiative is also critical to driving the adoption of this program. Students talk about TipSoft to their peers, which increases its validity to other students. When we first rolled out the program, we had students from the student council and other student leadership organizations visit the individual classrooms to inform their peers about the program. They passed out business cards that included an explanation of how TipSoft worked, so each student could have the necessary information at their fingertips.

When we first began to build awareness in the community, we went through the community health initiative that some of our students are involved in through the local hospital. The hospital sponsored the production of posters which were posted in the schools, ads in local newspapers, billboards—anything that helped get the word out there. We even hung posters in the spring to inform students they could report incidents over the summer break. When a tip is originated by a student or member of the community, it is sent automatically to Blount County’s 911 department, who converse with the tipster, get all necessary information, and then disseminate it to the school resource officer, the campus administrators, the school district supervisors, and the law enforcement agencies. Everyone is on the same page, and everyone knows what is going on simultaneously.

When a tip comes in, the 911 center sends a PDF to the necessary people with the entire dialogue between the tipster and 911 dispatcher. The PDF also includes the offense type and the time and date it was received. The student’s information is entirely confidential. We don’t attempt to find out who the tipster is, which is, as mentioned before, critical to student buy-in. TipSoft allows you to pull reports to prove how successful your program has been. You can pull on how tipsters submit tips (via text, mobile application, call center, web tips), what days of the week most tips are sent, what kinds of tips are being submitted, as well as what time of day the most tips are sent.

These reports have allowed us to pinpoint that most tips come to us during lunch periods, which are the times when students come together in large groups. The TipSoft program has truly been an asset to our schools in providing an avenue for students to report incidents in their schools.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to