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Anonymous texts join battle against bullying

Dealing with a bully? Text a school official.

Bullies may use texts to harass their classmates. But many school districts now have anonymous texting systems that let students alert administrators to the bullies themselves.

Districts in eleven states are now required to have websites, hotlines, or texting services that let students report bullying anonymously. Texting in particular provides a valuable outlet for students to share what is hidden from administrators’ eyes, says Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center at Florida Atlantic University. “Texting is the primary medium through which youth communicate,” Hinduja says. “They want to speak up—they just don’t want to regret it, or get targeted as a ‘tattle tale’.”

Twenty-eight percent of students age 12 to 18 were bullied at school during the 2009-2010 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And about half of adolescents have experienced some form of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.

Anonymous texting encourages students to communicate honestly in a form they are comfortable with, Hinduja says, and allows administrators to stop a problem before it escalates. “It’s about creating a culture around talking, reporting, and doing something active about bullying, rather than ignoring it and hoping it doesn’t happen,” he adds.

PublicEngines, SchoolReach, and Mosio are among the many anonymous texting programs available for schools. This fall, the Quakertown (Pa.) Community School District will implement the Blackboard TipTxt program, which is free for schools, and was announced in May.

“This provides another avenue for student voice, where they have the opportunity to diffuse a situation or stop one before it starts,” says Thomas Murray, director of technology and cyber education at the Quakertown district. “And it gives us information. We then have to decipher that information, and decide if it is credible and what to do with it.”

A BYOD district, Quakertown high school students can use cell phones at school, and this allows them to communicate discreetly with an adult at any time. “As technology evolves, we need to acknowledge how it can help us not only instructionally, but in terms of safety as well,” Murray says.

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