A pair of incidents at Blaine County schools brought student safety back to the fore last week. This year, though, administrators are using a new tool to help secure schools—and, they say, it’s already paying dividends.
Students at Carey, Silver Creek and Wood River middle and high schools started using the STOPit smartphone app to report incidents at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. The online platform allows students to anonymously text administrators and school resource officers when they see suspicious behavior, and help staff coordinate a response.
So far, those tips have led to “successful interventions” on concerns involving self-harm, bullying, harassment, drugs and alcohol use, cyber-stalking and possible domestic violence between dating students, according to Hailey Police Officer Shawna Wallace, who is assigned to Wood River High School.
“I think it fills a gap,” Wallace said. “We’re capturing tips that wouldn’t be reported, because kids are too afraid or embarrassed to do it in person.”
Different schools can set it up differently, Wallace said. When a report is made at Wood River High School, Wallace, Director of Student Safety Dave Stellers, Principal John Pearce, and Vice Principals Julia Grafft and Keith Nelson all receive notices on their own phones. From there, the team assigns a member to investigate the tip. They can make notes in the app, close the case when it’s done and file it away in a common record stored with Stellers.
At Wood River Middle School, Principal Fritz Peters, Vice Principal Rob Ditch, social worker Tod Gunter and School Resource Officer Brad Gelsky get the message. They’ve gotten 14 reports this year: 12 legitimate and two hoaxes, Peters said.
“While the number of reports is relatively low, the app has been very useful for us, as well as for the person reporting the incident,” he said. “Overall, the effectiveness of the app will be determined over time, but the key aspect for our community is that students, staff and parents feel good about reporting incidents to school officials and school resource officers.”
At that age, it’s mostly bullying. The anonymous dialogue has been “key” in encouraging witnesses to reach out, Peters said.
For Wallace, it does change the way she investigates a tip.
“You have to keep that in the back of your mind,” she said.
But kids need to check a box reminding them that they could face legal action for calling in false reports. Wallace said she’s had “a few” at the high school, “but it hasn’t been a problem.”
STOPit continues to send notifications to staff over the weekend, though they aren’t required to monitor it after hours. Wallace does anyway, and so do other administrators, she said. STOPit Solutions, which runs the app, does, too; an operator with the company gets all off-hours tips, and can notify law enforcement if something rises to that level.
While technology can broaden their reach, both Wallace and Peters agree that there’s no substitute for the strong relationships staffers hope to build.
Last Tuesday, Hailey police responded to a potential threat against Wood River High School after students reported a suspicious Snapchat image to school staff during a volleyball game. Earlier that day, teachers at Ernest Hemingway STEAM School in Ketchum were notified that a student had brought a knife to school. Both cases were resolved without incident—and both were reported face-to-face.
“I still want kids to trust us,” Wallace said. “I like that they trust us, and I hope that they’ll come and talk to me if anything’s wrong.”