Students will be able to confidentially report and discuss bullying and other troubling incidents by text message with TipTxt, a new tipline offered by Blackboard, Inc., that is being promoted in conjunction with the National PTA.
The new safety-oriented service will be offered to all K-12 schools and districts in the country at no cost other than the $125 annual fee of setting up a dedicated line.
On May 29, the PTA announced the partnership with Blackboard, a Washington, D.C.-based business that provides enterprise technology and solutions for students and learners around the world.
"TipTxt is a tipline that allows for confidential, text conversations between students and school officials about critical challenges that students experience such as bullying, and issues that relate to bullying, such as abuse, self-esteem or confidence problems," the PTA's release says. "Armed with this insight, officials can provide resources, advice, or immediate action to help on a case-by-case basis."
"The concept is one that is great," said Ronald D. Stephens, the executive director of the National School Safety Center, an advocacy and advisory group in Westlake Village, Calif. "Texting is probably where the new action is" in terms of reporting threatening behavior, he said.
While a national "text-only" service for this purpose might be a novelty, the concept of using texting for tips is not entirely new.
As part of its "Silence Hurts Campaign," Broward County Public Schools in Florida set up a phone, email, and text system for anonymous tips after the 2009 murder of a high school girl by another girl who had texted, "Ima bust a cap in somebody. Ima shoot somebody. Tomorrow I will shoot myself in the heart. I just might get arrested tomorrow. U gon visit me in jail."
News reports indicated that, despite this very public warning, no one reported the threat.
The PTA and Blackboard are hoping they can affect students' willingness to report incidents with the texting capability.
"National PTA has always believed that creating a dialogue around bullying is one of the most effective measures to putting a stop to the problem. TipTxt is a great tool that allows children to have a voice within this dialogue," Betsy Landers, National PTA president, is quoted as saying in the organization's release.
Stephens from the National School Safety Center said, "Schools will need to do some education of students about why it's in their self-interest to do this [report threats via text], and for adults about why they need to respond." The stakes are high. "Unchecked, bullying creates an atmosphere of chaos and a negative learning environment," he said.
Learn more from the National PTA's official statement.