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Alabama Schools Use Technology to Stop Student Bullying

The Tuscaloosa County School System will spend $13,000 annually to cover the cost of a free phone app that allows users to anonymously report bullying incidents, reducing the risk of retaliation.

(TNS) — Starting next school year, the Tuscaloosa County School System will roll out a new, anonymous way for students and parents alike to report bullying.

On Monday, the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education approved a contract with Anonymous Alerts to develop a free phone app that will allow people to report bullying to their respective schools using text messaging. The agreement, which the school system will use for $13,000 per year, allows Anonymous Alerts to tailor the app, as well as computer program that will be placed on the TCSS website.

"We're always interested in trying to ensure safety of our students, faculty and staff," Deputy Superintendent David Patrick said. "It's an ongoing process that we try to evaluate and keep up with technology as best as we can."

The app is used to send text messages that will be received by both school counselors and Central Office personnel to vet certain complaints. The app will only be available to use for students and parents in the school system.

"It's designed to help our schools to deal with these kinds of situations," Patrick said. "It's another tool they will have at their disposal to use to try to make our schools safer."

Patrick said anonymity is a key component because retaliation can sometimes occur when the victim of bullying is found to have told on others.

According to the company, Anonymous Alerts is used by more than 5,000 schools in the country.

During the meeting, District 6 board member Randy Smalley asked IT director Michael Townsend about if individual privacy would be at risk due to software issues, Townsend said personal data is not exposed.

"By federal law, if you submit something, it's like you make a phone call, it's recording," Townsend said. "Only the federal government with a federal warrant can get that, so no one else can."

When Smalley expressed concern that the app could potentially lead to school administrators being inundated with false bullying reports, TCSS Superintendent Walter Davie said the schools he had consulted about the app, including the school systems in Alabaster and Huntsville, found that not to be the case.

"They've found it to be a helpful app and be helpful to the employees," Davie said. "The feedback we've gotten so far is very good."

Before the agreement, the only way the school system could deal with bullying concerns was on a one-on-one basis with students or receiving phone calls through its Student Services Office. In Tuscaloosa City Schools, there is an online portal on the school system website to anonymously report bullying. Those reports are received at the specified school.

One out of every five children reports being bullied, according to a study published by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2016.

Davie said the app should be ready to launch by August.

©2019 The Tuscaloosa News, Ala. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.