There are federal and state laws to protect students from bullying and harassment. Anti-bullying laws have been in place since 2002 in Connecticut when the legislature passed a statute directing all public school districts to develop and implement a bullying policy. Districts are required to have policies and practices in place as well as designated individuals to handle complaints.
One of the ways a large public school can monitor and fight bullying is through a phone alert app so kids and their parents can report incidents.
Norwalk Public Schools which has 11,800 students in 20 schools and is the 6th largest school district in Connecticut has an account for the Anonymous Alert smart phone kids and their parents can download on their smartphones for the purpose of reporting incidents of bullying.
This anti-bullying and safety app reporting system helps combat bullying and other negative activity in schools by empowering students to speak up. The app allows for one-way or two-way anonymous encrypted communications between submitters and district administration and/or school staff. Users of the system have the option to remain anonymous or to reveal their identity when submitting a report, explained the company's Founder/President Gregory Bender. School districts pay a licensing fee and members of their community can download the app free from the Apple, Google Play and Chrome stores.
In addition, large districts like Norwalk public schools routinely provide education about bullying to their students and staff.
"We just finished an anti-bullying program for all students in K to 12 called Start With Hello. In our school.it's that type of proactive work is our best defense in the bullying that can happen," said Norwalk Public Schools Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo. "Our director of School Security and Preparedness meets with each of the administrators and interfaces with the students at the school. We concentrate it at the middle and high school level," he continued.
Norwalk schools have the alert app to allow students to anonymously report an incident or pattern of behavior which is sent immediately to the school administrations, according to Costanzo.
The administration then investigates to determine if there's any merit to it. The app is available to any student or parent with a smartphone.
According to research conducted by his company, 70 percent of bullying goes unreported unless it is anonymous, said Bender, a Stamford resident.
He said the school-wide anonymous alert system successfully thwarted two gun violence school threats last year in two states "because someone reported they knew about weapons at school and reported it on the app anonymously."
Bender said many schools in Fairfield County are using Anonymous Alert.
He himself was a victim of bullying in the 6th grade while attending a private school in New York City growing up. "I saw the need," said Bender.
A Norwalk mother of three sons, one a graduate, and two in the city's public school system, Jennifer Carlan said two of her boys were bullied in middle school.
An incident with her oldest involved a "close friend as is often the case, she said. "After many discussions as a family he wanted to report it to the guidance counselor, which he did, and it was handled very well. It was discreet and the boys who were doing the bullying were spoken to and (her son) felt very supported," recounted Carlan.
Her middle son was bullied by "a friendship turned bad" in an instance that she felt was not as well handled by the school. "I wasn't as impressed with the handling of it by the school. In fact, without my knowledge, the guidance counselor spoke with my son in regard to a complaint from another child."
"However," Carlan continued, "after I let them know that I wasn’t pleased with the handling of it, they seemed more inclined to keep me in the loop. I had a few conversations with the safety officer as well, as he had reported to me one day that my son had left in tears. That, although heartbreaking for me as a mom, was comforting that they were watching out for my kids. So far, her third son, now in middle school, has no issues with bullying.
"I’ve always encouraged my boys to promote kindness and to report any issues to us. I also frequently ask them if they’ve had any issues or concerns to report especially in regard to bullying," Carlan noted.