The app is called Safetips, and it's been the focus of a three-year test run at a single school in Arlington, Carter Junior High School. The administration there offers an enthusiastic endorsement, and next year it will be adopted in Dallas and Grand Prairie.
By promising anonymity, Safetips is designed to encourage students and parents to report malicious or suspicious bullying behavior. Users can anonymously submit video, photos and descriptions of anyone’s behavior directly to school administrators. Creator Chris Wright designed the app and founded Cyson with his father Greg in Grand Prairie. He intends Safetips to also act as a tool to report depressed, suicidal or even homicidal students. “God forbid, it could be cutting, gun threats, anything,” Wright says. “It’s not just bullying; it’s related to campus security.”
In its first year, Principal Reny Lizardo says that the app averaged 5 to 10 reports a month. Since then, the number of reports sent through the app have steadily fallen off. Through the app, students and parents are able to see whether administration acts on the reports, and school officials attribute that to more direct contact. “It’s getting less use, but at the same time more kids are coming in to talk to us,” Lizardo says. “They feel safer talking to us.” Carter Junior High School takes a yearly survey to see how students perceive bullying in their lives. From this, Lizardo attributes a 5 percent drop in the perception of bullying to Safetips.
Although the app rarely sees a report, Lizardo still feels that it's a crucial part of the school's anti-bullying efforts. “Even if I have no one use the program all year, I’ll continue renewing it,” Lizardo says. “It shows the parents and community that this is something I’m serious about.”
Wright has also started Stand4Kind, an anti-bullying campaign that has been doing anti-bullying pep rallies with minor celebrities in Utah for several years.
Carter Junior High School is planning to spend several thousand dollars to host one of the pep rallies next spring and Chris Wright says that Grand Prairie will be hosting a Stand4Kind event later this month. “At these events we try to promote and emphasize kindness,” Wright says. “We normally work with a gentleman by the name of Chris Hollyfield who is an ex-WWE wrestler.”
Wrestling fans may recognize Hollyfield as “Little Boogeyman.” As a dwarf, Hollyfield knows about bullying at school. Now he works with companies like Stand4Kind as a guest speaker at pep rallies. (If this sounds familiar, it's a concept that South Park pilloried.)
Through the app, administrators also develop a categorized database of all the different reports they receive. “Cyberbullying is going up,” Lizardo says. “I see a trend, but it’s also easier for me to capture and have proof of it.”
Of course, if there are no reports, there is no data. And with no data, this database is also useless.
There are other concerns over apps that report behavior anonymously, encouraging informants to lodge accusations without repercussions. There may be legal ramifications, too. A database of children and parents who have reportedly abused children physically or mentally could potentially be subpoenaed.
But for Lizardo, Safetips is appealing because of lack of other tools to combat a problem that's on the minds of parents and the media. They see technology as an improvement, no matter what the drawbacks. “There’s an official district form and flowchart that the district uses,” Lizardo says. “We needed something to support the students who are being bullied.”