Bullying. Cyberbullying. Harassment. Violence. Weapons. Truancy. Student Achievement. While most school leaders want to focus their attention on the last item mentioned in that list, student achievement, school districts are finding themselves overwhelmed with school safety issues and constantly working to investigate and respond to situations, leaving fewer and fewer resources to improve learning and achievement.
So, what can be done to improve student safety and prevention efforts, and in turn, provide students with an environment they feel secure in to excel and expand their learning objectives?
In many situations, gaps exist between school administrators and policy, and what is actually happening on buses, in locker rooms, in hallways, at sporting events, and online on Facebook. In fact, in recent studies, 65% of victims said bullying was not reported by them or others to teachers or school officials. Even when a bullying victim had suffered injury, 40 percent of the time the students said the bullying was not reported. It is impossible for school leaders to prevent something they don’t know about it, so it is critical for districts to improve these numbers and encourage their student and staff to report ongoing harassment and other concerns.
Many school districts have installed cameras to monitor their environments, which may be necessary, but what if schools also utilized the hundreds (or thousands) of “cameras” they already have walking the halls of their schools each day?
Two Oklahoma School Districts are taking advantage of an innovative incident and risk management service to empower their students, parents and staff to proactively report concerning behaviors to district personnel. Tulsa Public Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools are using TIPS, a web-based solution from Awareity, Inc., that allows for the anonymous reporting (via web or phone) of weapons possession, drug/alcohol use, harassment or intimidation, school vandalism, physical assault, threats of violence, suicide risk, abuse or neglect and other incidents.
TIPS ensures all incident reports are tracked, documented and responded to in a proactive manner. With a web-based platform, school administrators can access on-demand reporting to see if/when reports are made, when team members received and acknowledged each report, and what steps were taken to address the report. Team members collaborate through the platform to share ongoing findings and help connect all the dots needed to ensure a safe and responsive approach.
At Tulsa Public Schools, Tenna Whitsel, District Coordinator of Student Services, knew their district was not doing enough to comply with the Office of Civil Rights requirements for bullying and harassment. A Dear Colleague Letter sent to all schools in October 2011, made it clear that all schools are required to investigate bullying incidents and take immediate action to stop harassment and prevent its recurrence. If the school knows or reasonably should know about student harassment and fails to address its effects and take appropriate action, they are opening themselves up to federal investigations and expensive lawsuits.
Whitsel took immediate steps to implement the TIPS platform at the start of the second semester in the 2011-2012 school year. In its first 6 months of use, TPS saw immediate success across its schools. Below are just some of the situations in which TIPS was utilized.
Intervene/Prevent – Prevent the Escalation of Bullying – A parent used the TIPS reporting system to report incidents of physical bullying towards her daughter and several of her peers. The “bully” was so effective that the student was terrified at the sight of her in the hallway. Once the parent completed the online report, elementary school administration were able to quickly intervene and prevent further bullying. This also gave the administrators an opportunity to provided school-wide awareness & education regarding bullying.
Intervene/Prevent the Escalation of Cyber Bullying – A female student completed a TIPS report online, with assistance from her school counselor. Incident initially began as “cyber-teasing” on Facebook from another female peer at same school, teasing victim about a recent breakup with a male peer at same school. Administrators were able to meet with victim & parent, provided information and counsel regarding safe use of social media sites online. This also provided the middle school administration with an opportunity to raise student awareness of the negative effects of cyberbullying among students.
Intervene/Prevent – Prevent Self Harm – A high school teacher completed a TIPS report online, stating she was very concerned about the behavior of one of her English students. This female student had recently informed the teacher that she was thinking suicidal thoughts and was uncomfortable going to her next hour due to some of the students in the class. The HS Social Worker was notified, coordinated mental health services for student and family and provided a free assessment, which resulted in successful intervention and prevention of suicide.
Now well into the 2nd year of TIPS, Tulsa continues to receive feedback from students and parents and work with their school principals and counselors to immediately address concerns and prevent incidents from escalating into tragedies.
In the fall of 2012, Oklahoma City Public Schools launched the TIPS platform and their 587-STOP reporting hotline (also provided by Awareity). Initially designed to gather anonymous reports from students and parents regarding bullying and student safety concerns, Safe Schools Coordinator, Tracy Alvarez, immediately saw the value in TIPS and expanded the use of the program to document and track truancy cases, as well as bus and transportation issues. Now, if a bus driver or monitor sees concerning behavior on the way to or from school, they can immediately report concerns to the district’s transportation director, as well as the school’s principal for investigation. School administrators can quickly address concerns and also utilize ongoing reports to determine if particular bus routes or areas within schools need more supervision.
Many schools fear implementing an anonymous reporting capability within their schools will overwhelm staff with false or misleading reports. After speaking with Tulsa and OKCPS, it is clear that students are not interested in falsely getting their peers in trouble. In fact, victims and bystanders just want bullying and harassment to stop and are overwhelmingly supporting the new system. The schools have also been able to delegate incident types and locations for reports so each individual school within a district is responsible for handling the reports concerning their students. TIPS is actually saving valuable time and resources by eliminating paper-based student files, spreadsheets on behaviors and weekly meetings to discuss at-risk students.
By empowering your students, staff, faculty, parents and community members to be responsible for their own safety and the safety of others within your school districts, schools can continue to improve student safety ongoing. Is your school taking control of your learning environment?
Business Insurance reported that Penn State University’s expenses in response to the alleged child abuse by former assistant football coach Gerald Sandusky are mounting. A Penn State statement said they are paying nearly $2.5 million for the services of two public relations firms.
The communication firms aim to work with Penn State’s public information officers to provide broad and transparent communications to key stakeholders and support the university through upcoming litigation, according to the statement. “Retaining these communications firms puts us more firmly on the path toward accountability, openness and preserving our reputation as one of the world’s leading research universities,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in the statement.
As of Feb 29, Penn State has spent $7,577,643 in legal fees and consulting fees and the legal cases are just getting started.
The majority of the incidents and liabilities at Penn State could have been prevented had PSU invested in a “prevention platform” that would have equipped victims, coaches, supervisors, administration, legal, law enforcement with prevention tools rather than crisis response and other reactive approaches.
In a recent blog I shared how the Virginia Tech tragedy (also preventable according to Virginia Tech Review Panel Report) has cost VT and taxpayers $48.5 MILLION.
“Prevention platforms” cost your bottom line a whole lot less, they help protect reputations and they save lives. Does your organization have a Prevention Plan (to complement your Crisis Response Plan), a Prevention Team (to complement your Incident Response Team) and a Prevention Platform? If you want to be proactive and prevention focused, click here.
Did you see the recent report from the Center for American Progress? The report estimates that the Virginia Tech tragedy cost the university and taxpayers $ 48.2 million. And this cost does not include the “costs” associated with the loss of lives and lives that were changed forever.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I hope all school and university administrators are paying close attention to this wisdom and this new report.
According to the report, the university was responsible for most of the costs – $ 38.77 million – and the state of Virginia paid around $ 8.87 million and rest was covered by local government and the federal government in the form of grants.
How the $48.2 million breaks down is shown in this Campus Safety article.
Today is the 5th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre that resulted in 32 deaths and another 25 wounded. According to the Virginia Tech Review Panel report (which cost $ 465,000), this tragedy could have been prevented and the report provided nearly 100 recommendations for university leaders to implement.
So why do we continue to see incidents, headlines and tragedies in schools and universities?
The facts are pretty clear that most schools and universities are still very “reaction focused”. Most schools and universities have Crisis Plans and Emergency Response Plans, but few have a Prevention Plan. Most schools and universities rushed out to purchase Mass Notification Systems after the VT tragedy, but few schools and universities invested in Prevention platforms to equip their students, faculty, staff, Safety Teams, law enforcement, legal, compliance and community resources with tools to “connect-the-dots, silos, red flags and suspicious actions” or the tools to get the right information to the right people in the right place at the right time so the right people can do the right things, which is the most efficient and cost effective way to intervene and prevent expensive and embarrassing tragedies.
To learn more about Awareity’s innovative and proven Prevention platforms and tools, click here.
If you missed part one of this blog, please click here for teachable moments and bullying laws…
Now that you have reviewed Part 1, my other concern with this story involves communities and their taxpayers. Is the complaint by school administrators and this vote by the Council on Local Mandates putting communities and taxpayers in a more vulnerable situation with even more liabilities and costs?
Do these school administrators know what happens when a school does not take appropriate actions by equipping everyone to report incidents, investigating all reports, intervening, preventing a hostile environment and documenting their actions? Are the Council on Local Mandates and the school administrators for the school districts in Bergen County aware of multiple OCR Dear Colleague Letters that were sent to all schools?
All school administrators could benefit from takking a few minutes to review an Executive Briefing on the Federal Investigation of a school district in California that did not follow OCR Dear Colleague Letter mandates, click here to request your copy.
I also wonder if these school administrators realize that a New Jersey school district within the same Bergen County (Emerson Board of Education) recently paid $130,000 in a settlement of a lawsuit because the school failed to take appropriate actions to intervene and prevent bullying targeted at a student? The NJ Attorney General said this about the school:
“There is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion that these incidents of bullying were either ignored or improperly handled by Respondent.”
And I wonder if NJ school administrators are aware there are two more similar lawsuits pending against New Jersey school districts in which students claimed administrators ignored their reports of bullying?
As I mentioned in Part 1, I am passionate about student safety and because of my passion I bring attention to these stories to help school administrators take actions before it’s too late for even one at-risk student. I like sharing successes from other school leaders who are reforming status quo, reducing costs and improving student safety and I was honored to receive the Risk Innovator Award for Education from Risk & Insurance Magazine and the Responsibility Leader Award too.
Give me a call at 402.730.0090 as I am confident we can help you too!
A recent news story involving the NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the Council on Local Mandates and a school district in Warren County in New Jersey caught my attention. After reviewing related articles, are New Jersey school administrators missing out on a significant teachable opportunity?
The Council on Local Mandates voted 7-2 that the New Jersey state law regarding anti-bullying must be amended because it includes an unfunded mandate for local school districts. Is this really the message school administrators want to send to their students about doing the right thing? Are these school leaders saying student safety and anti-bullying issues are not going to be addressed unless they get more funding?
The school district said that it would cost them $6,000 to train educators – with more costs in the future. Apparently the administration of this school district would be using status quo training approaches, because $6,000 is very expensive. Status quo mass training approaches are clearly not helping school administrators prevent bullying, as alarming incidents continue to mount around the globe.
In another related article, school administrators said the law is creating more paperwork, investigations and meetings.
The NJ Anti-Bullying law does not create more paperwork, more investigations or more meetings…the status quo approaches do. The NJ law provides school leaders with guidance and a blueprint they can use to prevent bullying and related consequences more effectively.
Unfortunately, these NJ school administrators missed a great opportunity to use the new anti-bullying law to create teachable moment in innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, wouldn’t it make more sense for school administrators to gather ideas for reforming expensive, status quo, labor-intensive, paper-based and ineffective 20th century approaches? Or school administrators could have explored success stories from innovative school leaders that could help reduce costs and equip their school to prevent bullying?
I have always been very passionate about student safety, and without a “funded mandate” we began studying failures and lessons learned, and then began developing tools to eliminate those gaps and disconnects that were showing up in schools over and over and over. I am proud to say we are helping schools save lives, save money, save time, save reputations and save resources and we did it without a “funded mandate”.
We also compiled the results of our research so we can share our findings with school administrators that do not have the time and resources to do their own research. If you would to review one of our executive briefings from our research, click here.
With the recent passing of football coach, Joe Paterno, Joe he can now rest in peace knowing he touched the lives of many as a coach at Penn State for 62 of his 85 years on this planet.
The horrific scandal at Penn State University will no doubt have an effect on the legacy of JoePa (his nickname suggesting his fatherly quality to his players and students too), some will judge JoePa based on what they know and others will judge JoePa based on what they don’t know.
For me, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Joe Paterno for his foresight and humility to do an interview with the Washington Post before he passed away. You see this interview could and should become one of the most valuable lessons learned for college leaders and organizational leaders around the world. JoePa shared how he felt inadequate to handle the situation that was brought to his attention:
“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” Paterno told the Washington Post in an interview published Saturday. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
“I called my superiors and I said, ‘hey, we got a problem I think. Would you guys look into it? Because I didn’t know, you know … I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn’t feel adequate,”
So what lessons learned did Joe Paterno’s interview provide?
First, if Joe Paterno worked at a college over 60 years and was not clear on university procedures and felt inadequate to do the right thing…how many people in your organization feel inadequate? Have you equipped everyone to do the right thing? This is a significant lesson learned that exposes how 20th century tools (binders, handbooks, annual training, intranets, etc.) can leave your people feeling inadequate and ill-equipped to do right thing as 21st century challenges, risks and situations are changing continuously and the consequences of not doing the right thing can be devastating.
Second, Joe Paterno also revealed in an interview: “In hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
College leaders, school leaders and organizational leaders must take immediate and proactive steps to equip their people with 21st century tools to ensure no one feels inadequate, but is equipped to take appropriate actions. No one wants the burden of wishing they had done more when it comes to helping a child, a friend, an employee or anyone in their community.
Click here to learn more about proven and award-winning 21st century tools.
Two high profile incidents this week revealed that despite updates to the Clery Act and Title IX requirements, campuses continue to struggle to proactively identify warning signs and red flags and gather information and reports from their people (students, staff, faculty, law enforcement, counselors, etc.).
Penn State – Lawmakers are investigating whether Penn State violated the Clery Act when it did not report child sexual abuse allegations regarding a former football coach to the proper authorities. Several coaches were aware of the allegations, but did not report to the police.
University of Idaho - University of Idaho officials say at least one police officer knew of alleged gun threats against a graduate student before she was shot and killed by a professor she had been dating. The student had complained to the university in June that professor Ernesto Bustamante had threatened her with a firearm three separate times during the relationship.
It is critical for institutions to connect the dots across all individuals and threat team members (students, staff, faculty, counselors, law enforcement, parents, etc.) ongoing and ensure that all threats, risks, warning signs, etc. are reported to the appropriate personnel and investigated thoroughly to determine the appropriate level of response. Too many times, we see after the fact the warning flags and reports that existed, but that were not connected.
Comprehensive threat assessment and behavioral intervention programs need to extend across the entire campus community (faculty and staff, as well as students). If TAT/BIT teams can be notified immediately at the first sign of violence, aggression, threat, etc., and have the tools necessary to connect the dots across campuses, locations, departments, etc., many of these tragedies may be able to be prevented.
I think one of the biggest challenges that may have been a factor in each of these incidents is a lack of clear procedure and policy on reporting incidents. Higher education institutions must clearly define individual responsibilities for reporting illegal activities, suspicious behaviors, red flags, threats, etc. and ensure that all individuals involved understand their roles and requirements (and the consequences for a failure to report).
To learn more about how your institution can help your campus community come together and develop a culture of prevention, please click here.
A disconnect is seemingly growing and becoming more and more serious every day. Disconnects in schools exist for many reasons including:
What about disconnects between Adults and Students…are these disconnects also a problem? For example, most adults never experienced cyber bullying at a young age, so can adults really relate to what students are experiencing these days?
As I work with K-12 and Higher Education leadership across the U.S., I come across numerous “old school leaders” that seem disconnected from the real pains and challenges their students are facing in school.
As I was pondering this disconnect between adults and students, a slogan for Trix Cereal popped into my mind from an ‘old school’ TV ad…see if you remember it?
“Trix are for Kids”*
The Trix slogan got me thinking about adults and bully prevention and perhaps even a slogan:
“Bullying Conferences and Seminars are for Adults and Experts”
But remember the rest of the Trix cereal ad? The kid would say, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for Kids” and then the rabbit would say, “and sometimes, for tricky rabbits.”*
We need adults (boards, administrators, principals, teachers, parents, bus drivers, counselors, etc.) to hear what students are saying, understand what students are going through and become “tricky rabbits” to make sure they are providing students with proven and trusted ways to be heard, to get help and to ultimately prevent bullying.
Students play a major role in preventing bullying, however school leaders need more effective ways to “connect the dots” – students need to be able to “connect with adults” in ways that work for students…not “old school ways” that adults are familiar with.
To request a copy of an executive briefing of the landmark federal investigation from July 2011 or to learn about successes where schools are connecting students and adults to prevent preventable incidents, click here.
*General Mills trademarked slogan
Anderson Cooper hosted a Town Hall Meeting on Sunday with the theme of ‘Bullying: It Stops Here’.
I watched the town hall meeting and I listened to the experts and took notes. I listened to the kids and took even more notes. I listened to Anderson Cooper say this about the kids:
“We owe them more than talk”.
Benjamin Franklin nailed this a long time ago saying:
Well Done is Always Better Than Well Said.
The Town Hall Meeting revealed:
I watched Kyle, a bullied student from Anoka-Hennepin, and asked how can something like this be allowed to happen over and over?
I watched a movie from ‘The Bully Project’, and asked how can something like this be allowed to happen over and over?
In the coming days and weeks, stay tuned to Awareity’s Blogs, Tweets and News to see how real prevention and real results can be achieved.
Prevention = Well Said AND Well Done…..and we owe it to kids and schools and parents to take next steps beyond just talk and saying the same things over and over.
Is your school prepared to respond accordingly to reports of bullying and harassment? Are you prepared to investigate, stop, prevent, eliminate hostile environments, take appropriate actions and document your actions? Are your school leaders aware of the different types of bullying that may be creating hostile learning environments in your school?
Studies show for students to achieve academically, they must feel secure and comfortable in their learning environment. A recent study from the University of Virginia revealed the academic performance of students in schools with persistent bullying may suffer because students are less engaged in learning due to fears about bullying or a greater level of school disorder.
According to recent statistics, up to 33 percent of students are being bullied each year and 60 percent of teachers/staff are witnessing bullying two or more times in a month.
Let’s do the math. If you have 3,000 students, then approximately 1,000 or so students could be facing bullying issues … are you taking appropriate actions? If you have 200 teachers and 60 percent of them are witnessing bullying twice a month that could be 240 incidents a month or 2,160 incidents a school year. Are your students and teachers reporting ongoing incidents and do you have the documentation and legal-ready documentation to prove you have taken the appropriate follow-up actions?
On October 6, 2010, the OCR “Dear Colleague” letter sent to all schools clearly defined all schools who know or reasonably should know about student bullying/harassment must:
- Investigate the incident
- Take immediate action to stop the harassment
- Take action to prevent the recurrence of harassment
- Eliminate the hostile environment
- Address its effects
- Take appropriate actions to revise policies and re-train students, faculty, staff and parents
With the new school year underway, the Department of Justice and Department of Education have made it clear that the OCR requirements will be enforced. Consider that a seven-month investigation at Tehachapi Unified School District is being called a landmark case with serious and expensive consequences for school boards and administrators. On July 1, 2011, a “resolution agreement” concluded that TUSD “did not adequately investigate or otherwise respond” to claims of bullying/harassment which led to the suicide of a 13-year old student.
On July 5, 2011 the student’s mother filed a lawsuit naming the school district, the superintendent, the principal, the vice principal and four teachers, seeking compensation for wrongful death damages, medical expenses and punitive damages. Several lawsuits have been filed at a Minnesota school district after seven students committed suicide in one year and a federal investigation is pending.
School leaders across the nation have been put on notice. And because most schools are already dealing with fiscal challenges, schools cannot afford suicides, undocumented incidents, federal investigations, and lawsuits. Therefore, prevention must become a top priority and prevention is more critical now than ever before.
How is your school encouraging students and parents to proactively report bullying/harassment and ensuring that all actions taken are documented with legal due diligence to meet ongoing OCR requirements? Are your school and community leaders preventing the preventable?
Based on studies, incidents and lawsuits, Awareity, Inc. has developed an innovative prevention platform that is helping school leaders take appropriate actions and document all actions taken for compliance and legal due diligence. TIPS (Threat Assessment, Incident Management and Prevention Services) provides schools with the tools to empower students, parents, staff, faculty, community members, etc. to report suspicious incidents, warning signs, red flags, etc. TIPS also empowers safety team members to easily and securely access incident reports, share documents, set reminders and document they have taken the required and appropriate actions and responses to meet OCR guidelines.
According to bullying and suicide prevention expert, Dr. Scott Poland, “TIPS is truly the most comprehensive incident management system available for K12 schools to not only receive anonymous reports from their students and parents, but ensure all appropriate personnel are notified to connect the dots and determine the most effective response. TIPS is helping school districts proactively prevent the preventable – suicides, bullying, violence, truancy, depression and more.”
Cross-posted from the Public School Risk Insistute – Prevention Link