Education

Anchorage School District adopts software allowing for anonymous reports of bullying

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The Anchorage School District has enacted a policy that allows students, volunteers and teachers to anonymously report bullying, harassment, intimidation and other concerns.

The new policy gives students the option to report bullying without having their names attached to the report.

The change is paired with new software called STOPit, an anonymous reporting system that lets students submit photos or videos, communicate anonymously with administrators and includes a 24/7 tip line.

The software will go live in November at secondary and alternative schools. It will be implemented at charter schools and elementary schools during the spring semester, according to school district officials.

The school board had a policy in place that said students and staff who knew about a student being bullied should report it immediately to the principal, who would then launch an investigation.

The school board has updated its policy to say: “The option to report concerns anonymously must be made available to all ASD students, volunteers and staff members.”

The board also added a line to the policy that anyone who knowingly makes a false report may face disciplinary action.

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“There are some times where students might not feel safe reporting those concerns, and hopefully this is another avenue for students to make their voice heard and provide a safe learning environment,” said school board member Carl Jacobs, who worked with the administration on the revision.

As a student decades ago, Jacobs said, he was the victim of bullying and still feels its impact today.

“I think it’s certainly safe to assume that there are incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation that go unreported due to a student’s level of comfortability with putting their name on the record and just being worried about any retaliation from that,” Jacobs said.

Federal data shows that nationwide, one in five students have experienced bullying. A state report in 2019 found that a quarter of high school students surveyed said they had experienced bullying at school, and one in five had dealt with cyberbullying via email, texting or social media.

The STOPit program is available as an app or website and via a telephone hotline and can be used by staff and parents. Members of the community can submit anonymous tips to administrators securely, the district’s acting chief operating officer, Rob Holland, said during a board meeting.

“These could be safety threats, bullying, alcohol or drug use, depression, thoughts of self-harm and many more,” Holland told the board.

Community members can also report instances of sexual harassment, weapons possession and inappropriate online behavior, according to the district.

The software also comes with a crisis text line, which allows students to communicate with trained counselors if they need to.

“When experiencing mental health or wellness issues, STOPit provides ASD staff and students immediate access to a trained professional that can help,” Holland said.

According to Holland, the software is used by more than half of the country’s 13,000 public school districts and is recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The program costs $55,000 a year, Holland said, and is locked in at that rate for the first three years of use.

The policy change passed unanimously at the board’s most recent meeting on Oct. 18.

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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