The Escambia County School District in Pensacola, Florida, is trying to live up to its motto: “making a positive difference.” And Superintendent Malcolm Thomas thinks he has found one way to do just that.
Thomas has become alarmed over the increase in teen suicides in the last few years, especially those that seem to be related to bullying. “I do think it is a growing concern among parents and people in the community, and lots of times the person being bullied – they’re a little intimidated by going to someone in authority and reporting,” Thomas said.
In order to make that process is a little easier for students, a website has been developed which students can access online. In a relatively short amount of time, they can report bullying or harassment incidents, even if they choose to report these incidents anonymously. Thomas showed Fox 10 News how easy it is; you simply click on the website, click the problem tab, enter your school or area, describe what occurred, and click submit. The reports go to the administrator for that particular student’s school.
Thomas was quick to say that the entries guarantee that an investigation will take place, but the validity of the report must be proven before any action would be taken. “We’re not going to go out on a witch hunt just because someone gave us an anonymous tip. We’re going to have to be able to prove it,” Thomas said.
Thomas’s reasons for starting this website are clear; he never wants to hear of a teen suicide in his district due to bullying. “No one ever wants to be in that position. I certainly don’t want to be there in Escambia School District, to think that we could have prevented it if we’d just known,” Thomas said.
Bridgette Rich, who was interviewed by Fox 10 News said she could see where it could have benefits, but didn’t think many students would use it. But Teresa Barham said, “It should make them feel more comfortable being able to report any harassment they’re receiving, so I think it’s a great idea.”
Thomas feels that this website will have a positive effect on kids, especially those who face harassment and bullying. And he plans to have it up and running on the school’s website starting next fall.
So, let me start out and tell you what I think, then hopefully you will tell us what you think. First of all, I am confident that there will be many students who will use this website to report bullying incidents. And I am hopeful that those that are legitimately reported will be handled promptly and strictly.
But, here is my fear. Kids will be kids. Some students will use this website as a tool to get kids they don’t like in trouble, manufacturing stories that are not true, especially since reports can be anonymous. These false allegations, at the least, will slow the intended process of dealing with real situations of bullying down. At the worst, innocent people may get accused of things they haven’t done, or kids will begin to lose confidence in the website’s effectiveness to attack harassment and bullying.
In spite of my concerns, I think it is a positive plan for reporting and confronting bullying in schools, and I plan to keep my eye on the Escambia County School District next year to see whether Thomas’s plan is successful.
So, what do you think? Please take a few minutes and tell us your opinion.