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Darien Schools Launch Mobile App to Allow Anonymous Reporting by Students

Darien – The town’s high school and middle school students have a new and anonymous way to report bullying and their concerns about school safety.

The Anonymous Alerts reporting system rolled out this week at Darien High School and Middlesex Middle School. The mobile app, which is used in more than 9,000 schools nationwide and by the Greenwich and Norwalk school districts, is marketed as a way to combat bullying and harassment, address student mental health, and improve school safety by allowing students to speak up and reach out without the need to identify themselves.

Gregory Bender, the founder and CEO of Anonymous Alerts calls social and peer pressure some of the toughest obstacles for middle and high school students to overcome, and he touts research by the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center to support the idea that an anonymous reporting system can help students overcome the fear of being ostracized or facing retaliation,

“We’re giving them this great new tool that can help them with some of the things that normally kids won’t come forward to report, especially those shy students and those students that are being targeted at the school,” he said. “This gives them a voice where they can come forward and talk about it.”

As school administrators across the country try to proactively address bullying, suicides and shootings involving students, schools in 23 states have established confidential safety tip lines for students.  Some states, like North Carolina and Texas, mandate anonymous reporting systems in their schools.  According to a study by RTI International, more than 50 percent of principals in schools with tip lines say the systems have prevented violence.  Anonymous Alerts thwarted a possible school shooting last year at a high school near Houston,Texas.

Bender said that schools with confidential tip lines find that students are using them. “They’re uncovering stuff that they normally would not know about and they find it extremely helpful not just for school security but student welfare as well.”   

Anonymous Alerts has been available to high school students and their families in Greenwich public schools since 2014. Director of Communications Jonathan Supranowitz said that feedback about the mobile app has been nothing but positive. On average, Supranowitz said, the district receives about 50-100 alerts through the app each school year.

How it works

When a student submits a report through Anonymous Alerts, the message is received by school officials who are then able to reply. Depending on the type of incident being reported, the alert can also be routed to law enforcement, a mental health counselor or to relevant school personnel. Students can also attach photos, video or screenshots. All communications are encrypted and secure.  

Bender said Darien schools already have plans in place for responding to a variety of events and Anonymous Alerts would be integrated into those plans.  “We’re not circumventing the existing processes. We’re augmenting them.”

A help and resources feature in the app provides educational content, including mental health, harassment and bully resources for students. Users can also place a call to an emergency number, like 911 and to other hotlines customized for the school district.  

According to Darien Superintendent of Schools, Alan Addley, the app reflects the district’s bigger commitment to providing a welcoming and safe learning environment and gives students a confidential way to alert the administration of incidents of harassment, potential bullying, suicidal thoughts, weapons on campus and other threats to students or staff.  

“Clearly we would like students to report certain incidents to an adult in the building and certainly it doesn’t replace that.  We’re also conscious that while we hope that everybody would do that, there may be occasions where for whatever reason, a student may not want to do that or feel comfortable enough to do that.  So this provides them the opportunity to use this confidential software to report incidents of suicidal ideation, bullying, threats to student safety.  Those were really the primary reasons that we wanted to provide this tool for.”

Anonymous Alerts archives and keeps a log of incident reports.  

“Everything is put in the system so the school can access that and see, okay, this is what we’ve been getting,” said Bender.  “This is what students are reporting and they can use that to educate themselves on what’s going on in the school.”

Addley expressed reservations about sharing information about the student-reported incidents publicly due to privacy concerns, but he said he was confident the district could provide parents with an overview of the issues students have raised.   

Bender said that misuse of the app is always the initial concern for school districts he works with, but he said studies have shown that young people are not using the app for illegitimate purposes.  He said less than three percent of the reports that his reporting platform receives nationwide are false swatting incidents. “Most are credible and actionable,” he said.  

Students in Darien were shown a presentation about the new student reporting system last week.  The app is free to download and is available on different platforms so students can access it from their smartphones or their laptops at home.

For the initial roll-out, Anonymous Alerts is being monitored only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays but Addley said the intention is to eventually make it available to students outside of school hours and on the weekends.  “It’s fully anticipated we’ll roll it out for longer hours,” he said.   

Addley said the alerting app is another tool to help students.  “So it’s really to do with the safety and mental health of our students and we know the mental health needs of our students are significant,” he said. “If it helps one student, it’d be beneficial.”