Bullying prevention is a core part of school safety, culture, and social-emotional programs. Despite an uptick in bullying awareness and education, recent reports suggest the problem is getting worse.
According to a recent survey from the non-profit YouthTruth, bullying in the nation’s K-12 schools spiked by five percent over the last two years. Recognizing this alarming trend, school districts are doubling down on tools and resources to prevent bullying.
We recently hosted a panel featuring school leaders from across the country whose districts are taking a stand against bullying. What follows are insights from that conversation.
Tuscaloosa City Schools “HALTs” bullying
Recognizing the need to reduce conflicts in their schools, leaders at Tuscaloosa City Schools in Alabama developed the HALT–or Harassment Awareness Learning Together–program to help educate students and streamline the reporting process.
Despite solid protocols and commitment to education, Dr. Janet Sherrod, executive director of learning supports at Tuscaloosa City Schools, said the district’s approach to bullying reporting and investigation was antiquated.
“Everything was on paper,” Sherrod said. “So you can just imagine. The district kind of dropped the ball on some things, not because we were trying to. It was a great process, but it was all on paper.”
To improve bullying reporting, and to reduce errors, TCS launched an online tool, where students and others could report instances of bullying for investigation. Under the new system, bullying reports are submitted online through the district website, where they are automatically routed to school personnel for follow-up and intervention by school counselors.
The tool, powered by Let’s Talk!, from K12 Insight, includes a dashboard that enables district administrators to record and track the progress of each bullying report, from intake to intervention.
“This has truly made it better for us in terms of accountability and changing the culture of our schools,” said Sherrod of the program.
Spring ISD urges community members to Report Bullying
To help ensure compliance with David’s Law, an anti-bullying measure in Texas, the Spring Independent School District sought a way for students to report bullying anonymously, while ensuring contact with a victim’s family within 72 hours.
The answer was an online initiative called Report Bullying. Similar to HALT, Report Bullying features an online form accessible from the district’s website.
Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield, chief communication officer at Spring ISD, said the tool works because it gives administrators “clear line of sight” from the bullying report to investigation to intervention.
“It gives us this real ability to look across and see patterns that really help us inform how we bring education and awareness to what bullying is versus conflict. But also, we can do some remediation on a campus if we see more frequent bullying incidents.”
Importantly, the district’s Report Bullying tool doesn’t just protect victims of bullying, said Dunne-Oldfield, it also gives administrators a means to identify students who are exhibiting bullying behavior and intervene to provide support and education.
Manor ISD stomps out bullying one conversation at a time
Yet another Texas district, Manor ISD, also sought a way to comply with David’s Law. Though the district previously had a strong bullying awareness program, it needed better reporting, said communications director Scott Thomas. That’s when they considered using Let’s Talk!
“If anyone even mentions the word bullying or harassment or fights, we get a critical alert,” Thomas said. “Myself, our superintendent, our assistant superintendent who oversees bullying, and our director of student safety all get a notice saying someone is talking about bullying on the platform. That allows us to respond within hours if not the hour.”
The tool also allows district administrators to reassign reports to school site administrators who are best equipped to handle individual cases.
Saving lives at Temecula Valley USD
Sometimes student reports go beyond bullying to include students’ mental and social-emotional health. Such was the case in California’s Temecula Valley Unified School District recently when two different students used the district’s report bullying tool to report potential thoughts of suicide from their classmates.
Within seconds of those reports, Public Information Officer Laura Boss received a Critical Alert to her smartphone. The report came in outside of regular school hours. Because the alert went straight to her phone, as opposed to an email inbox, Boss was able to immediately collaborate with the district’s school resource team. Within minutes, an existing protocol for parent notification and intervention was put into action.
“To me,” Boss said, “This tool saved two of our students lives…It really is an epidemic that we’re seeing across our country–the mental health of our students. This affords us an opportunity to grow and gives students a safe place to start, so that we can bring in those other resources and try to help those who are reaching out.”
For more on how these districts are tackling bullying in their schools, listen to the full conversation.
All of the districts featured in this conversation use K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk! tool to power bullying reporting and investigation. To learn how Let’s Talk! can work to address bullying and other critical issues in your district, sign up for a free demo here.