Over the past two decades, concerns related to mass shootings, bullying, student mental health, and the threat of gun violence have significantly escalated in U.S. schools. In the wake of the pandemic, which exacerbated challenges for students and prompted the adoption of new teaching technologies, schools are increasingly turning to apps as a solution to address these issues.
Technology Companies Enter the School Safety Arena
Technology companies have seized the opportunity during the pandemic to present app-based solutions for problems in schools. Many schools have embraced this trend by encouraging students and parents to download and use these apps.
Apps for School Safety: A Growing Trend
While the concept of using apps to tackle issues like cyberbullying, mental health crises, and school shootings is not new, the trend is gaining momentum, particularly within school tech departments.
Craig Hansen’s Efforts to Address Mental Health Strains
Craig Hansen, the chief emergency officer for Questar III BOCES in New York’s Hudson Valley, recognized that students were facing unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. Alongside the trauma of the pandemic, students grappled with isolation from peers, the loss of normal activities, and the usual academic pressures. To address these issues, Hansen sought grants to support their schools in addressing mental health strains and stressors.
The Rise of Safety and Monitoring Apps
Several companies, including STOPit Solutions, Raptor Technologies, Navigate360, Anonymous Alerts, and Sandy Hook Promise, offer apps equipped with a wide array of safety and monitoring features. These features include anonymous threat reporting, visitor tracking, silent alarms, and communication with law enforcement and mental health professionals. Some states have also developed their own reporting systems with similar functionalities.
Preventing Tragedies with Reporting Apps
These companies assert that they provide schools and students with tools that can prevent tragedies. As a result, these apps are becoming increasingly prevalent in schools across the United States.
STOPit Solutions: A Leading Player
STOPit Solutions, a privately-held company established in 2013, reports that its app is now used by 8,800 schools nationwide. The app offers students a simple and efficient means of reaching out when they are in distress, be it from external threats, on-campus threats, or internal threats to themselves. The company receives hundreds of reports from students daily, and approximately 10.5% of these reports involve imminent threats that necessitate the involvement of law enforcement or mental health professionals.
Balancing the Benefits and Risks of Reporting Apps
While apps like these are seen as a response to concerns over school shootings, they also raise broader issues. They provide tools to students for reporting various issues, but careful implementation is essential, especially regarding school violence. Concerns have been voiced about the potential misuse of these reporting tools for harassment.
Addressing Misuse and Establishing Protocols
According to C. Parkhill Mays III, CEO of STOPit Solutions, such misuse is rare, accounting for less than 1% of the reports received through their app. Additionally, school administrators can block students who misuse the app. However, before implementing a reporting app, schools need to establish procedures for handling different types of reports, in-person interventions, and when to involve parents or authorities. Without these protocols, even well-designed apps may not be effective.
The Holistic Approach to Student Well-being
Experts argue that while apps like these can be valuable for students experiencing crises, they should be part of a multifaceted solution that includes mental health resources, counseling, and regular check-ins. Devorah Heitner, author of “Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World,” emphasizes the importance of providing schools with more resources to address students’ mental health issues.
Striking a Balance: Reporting vs. Peer Intervention
In cases of students reporting concerns about potential violence, immediate action is crucial. Still, experts believe that relying solely on reporting apps is not sufficient, and schools should prioritize counseling over a digital solution. They also stress the need to strike a balance between addressing bullying through reports and fostering peer intervention, as excessive reliance on reporting can lead to negative consequences such as revenge and harm.
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Promoting a Culture of Safety and Care
Despite the debates surrounding these apps, many school officials believe they have an obligation to take action and provide a means for students to report concerns. The use of such apps can contribute to transparency and a culture of safety, encouraging students to care for each other and seek help when needed.