Boston Public Schools launch bullying prevention text hotline

Martin Desmarais | 9/11/2013, 11:59 a.m.
BPS has had a bullying hotline for several years, but this school year it has launched a new text hotline, ...


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Boston Public Schools has launched a new bullying prevention text hotline. The hotline uses software called TipTxt that monitors texts and sends automated responses based on keywords or phrases in the text, as shown above. The text hotline will be constantly monitored by school officials.

Boston Public Schools is serious about stopping bullying in its halls.

BPS has had a bullying hotline for several years, but this school year it has launched a new text hotline that school officials are hoping will get more kids reporting problems.

“With the text hotline we hope it is going to provide direct access for students to report bullying,” said Jodie Elgee, head of BPS’ anti-bullying program, which is run out of the school system’s Consulting and Intervention Center in Roslindale. “We know that the way most kids communicate is by text.

“It is providing them with a platform they are familiar with that they use on a daily basis,” she added.

The text hotline allows any student to send information to a phone line set up specifically to deal with bullying. According to Elgee, depending on what the text says, students will receive different automated responses.

If a student writes that someone is in a dangerous situation, for example, the text will direct them to call 911. For less dangerous situations the automated reply will ask for information about who is doing what, when and where.

The text line is being monitored, and text responses give students the number to call to reach a school official if the student wishes to speak to one. Anyone who says they are being bullied will hear back from a school official.

When many states established anti-bullying legislation several years ago, most had key stipulations that reporters of bullying must remain anonymous in order to prevent of retribution aimed at students reporting incidents. Elgee pointed out the text hotline is still anonymous.

“We are really not interested in who is calling specifically. We want to help kids have a way to share their concerns,” Elgee said. “We can get in touch with the school principal and not identify the person who is making the report.

“They also do not have to talk to me in person. We can do the whole thing by text,” she added.

BPS’ bullying prevention hotline, which was started in 2009, is called a success by school officials. But Elgee said it also taught them that most of those calls that come in are actually going to be from adults — 90 percent of the calls to the bullying hotline since it was started are from parents or caregivers. Students are going home and reporting bullying to their parents, who are then calling to report the incident.

While school administrators are happy that students are reporting incidents of bullying to someone, the concern is that it takes longer to report through parents, and that many incidents still go unreported.

“We are hoping we will get a quicker response to the students because it doesn’t have to go through the filter of adults,” said Elgee. “We are hoping the incidents will be reported as they occur.”

Elgee also points out that it is better for students to report bullying incid ents themselves, whether they are the victim or a bystander. “We would like to empower students,” she said. We would like them to learn to stand up for themselves and advocate for themselves,” she said.