CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland City Schools has added a digital weapon to its anti-bullying arsenal.
The Cleveland school board voted 7-0 on Thursday to adopt the STOPit program, a bullying reporting system that allows students to immediately and anonymously contact school administrators. The vote followed a presentation by Tennessee Risk Management Trust officials.
The annual STOPit subscription costs 69 cents per student, or around $1,900 for the approximately 2,800 students enrolled in Cleveland's middle and high schools. School officials plan to roll the program out to grades 6-12.
"It's essentially an application that kids can load on to their phone and it gives them a beneficial, very rapid way to report incidents of bullying or whatever it may be," said Chris Stipes, a TMRT safety representative. "It is two-way communication that is anonymous but the biggest deterrent is that everyone knows that there is an opportunity to report."
The reporting app allows users to specify types of incidents such as violence or drugs, Stipes said. It can even be used to report online bullying and includes options to call a toll-free crisis line.
The program allows incident tracking at the school or administrative level to ensure claims are completed, he said. Responses may include monitoring, disciplinary action or even calling in police.
"What this does is just give everybody in the school the opportunity to see what's going on and an opportunity to ensure all claims are reported and that all claims are followed up on," Stipes said.
STOPit can help prevent bullying behavior from escalating further, said Tom Montgomery, vice president of TMRT program management.
"It gives the kids an opportunity to tell you things before they happen," said Montgomery, citing highly publicized allegations of rape and assault on the Ooltewah High School boys basketball team.
The STOPit digital interface replaces an anonymous reporting box at school offices, said Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools.
"We felt this was a much safer, better and quicker way to go," Ringstaff said. "We are concerned that it would be abused by students every now and then, but I really don't think it will be."
While other digital bullying reporting systems are available, STOPit's edge is that it does all the incident tracking for school administration, Ringstaff said.
"We just have to respond," he said.
Before the vote, school board member Murl Dirksen expressed concerns the new system might add to administrators' workload.
"I really don't see the downside," said Ringstaff, citing the need to make "student-based decisions."
"The workload is going to be there one way or the other for the administrators," he said. "This just allows us to protect our administrators."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.