NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Public Schools is adding one more tool to its antibullying arsenal.

The district rolled out a mobile app called Anonymous Alerts this month, offering high school and middle school students, parents and school personnel the opportunity to anonymously report bullying, safety concerns, student depression, drug and alcohol issues, family problems or other situations that may warrant immediate attention by school officials.

“If you look nationwide, there are statistics that show students would have reported things but they weren’t able to do it anonymously,” said Joe Rios, school preparedness coordinator for Norwalk Public Schools. “This gives them that venue for any incident that needs to be reported.”

Though the app has only been in operation for a couple weeks, Rios said several complaints have already been made using it.

The app was developed by Greg Bender, who was bullied as a child and sought a way to prevent bullying and end catastrophic events in schools. The app, developed in 2012 in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, is now in use at more than 5,000 schools across the country. Bender said data collected by the company shows 70 percent of students said they would be more likely to report incidents if they could do so anonymously.

“I wanted to come up with a solution that allowed kids to come forward anonymously about those things,” Bender said. “Almost every kid has an iPhone or an iPad in their hand, and make it easy to help their friends and help others by reporting to schools.”

The Anonymous Alerts app can be downloaded directly from the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, and the Google Chrome Store. After downloading the Anonymous Alerts app, students, parents or other school personnel can click to open it, and then enter “norwalkps” as the username and password.

Students, parents or other school personnel can also visit the Norwalk Public Schools website and click on the “Anonymous Alerts” button to report an incident. Posters explaining how to use the app will also be displayed throughout the schools.

All reports remain completely anonymous, although submitters have the option to reveal their identity if they prefer. A screenshot or photo may also be included in the submission. The system will be operational during school between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Reports sent after 5 p.m. will be answered on the next scheduled school day. Rios said any emergencies should be reported to police. While Norwalk Public Schools encourages students to contact a teacher, school administrator, psychologist or counselor with any issues first, the new app is an option for students or parents who want to communicate anonymously.

In the 2016-2017 academic year, the Norwalk Public School system recorded 20 incidents of bullying according to a state database, a startling low number when considering one in five students nationally report being bullied in school. Spokeswoman Brenda Wilcox-Williams said the number is low because of the district’s robust bullying prevention programming.

“We’re actually pretty active in educating our students about bullying and our schools are vigilant about talking to our students in order to prevent incidents,” Wilcox-Williams said. “Anonymous alerts is an additional tool in the toolkit when it comes to reporting bullying.”

Parent and Board of Education member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell said she suspects the number is actually much higher, though students and parents might not report incidents to the district for a variety of reasons. She said she hopes the app will increase bystander intervention.

“I’m hoping this will allow students to report more often,” Meyer-Mitchell said. “One of the keys to preventing bullying is to turn the kids who would be bystanders into people who will stand up for others. This is a way to do that where they don’t have to navigate repercussions.”


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Information from: The Hour, http://www.thehour.com