The Toronto Catholic District School Board is set to launch a whistleblower app to help students report any inappropriate behaviour anonymously. Photo/Pexels

Toronto Catholic board's anti-bullying app set for launch

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  • February 24, 2017

Toronto’s Catholic school board is giving victims and witnesses the option of anonymity when reporting incidents thanks to a new smartphone application.

“The app is great,” said Nadia Adragna, a member of the board’s Safe Schools department. “It is a tool for those students who, for whatever reason, don’t feel comfortable reporting to a caring adult any concerns that they might have. And their report is completely encrypted so it is totally anonymous unless the student chooses to identity himself or herself.”

Once a report is filed, the school’s principals receive an alert text message and e-mail.

Along with basic fields for reporting an incident, photos, videos or links to social media posts can also be included.

“The app, because it does have that capacity to upload an image (or) upload a clip, is very helpful when you’re conducting investigations,” said Adragna, who’s also the principal of Monsignor Fraser College, St. Martin Campus. “The only way that I as principal can respond to incidents is if I know about it.”

Licensed from Anonymous Alerts, based in White Plains, N.Y., the app was developed in response to the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It seeks to “empower students to help themselves and others by reporting sensitive student issues quickly while establishing anonymous two-way communications,” according to the company.

The Dobbs Ferry school district in New York was the first to adopt the app in February 2013 and more than 5,000 American schools have followed. Officials at Toronto Catholic believe it is the first in Ontario to license and implement the tipster technology.

Select students will be introduced to the app on Feb. 28 during the board’s next Safe Schools Student Ambassador Symposium. A delegation of five to 10 students from each of the 32 secondary schools will attend the symposium and are responsible for introducing and implementing the app in their respective communities, along with the respective principals.

The app will be made public on March 1.

One of those who’ll be attending the symposium is Jahiem Henry, a safe schools ambassador from St. John Paul II Catholic Secondary School.

“When I asked students about having the app they are really happy to know that they have an app where they can go and report things anonymously,” said the 16-year-old Grade 10 student. “It is a really good app to have because a lot of the time students are not comfortable with bringing things to light by having a face-to-face conversation.”

He said a reluctance to report combined with students’ online socializing can leave the administration completely in the dark.

“A lot of these (inappropriate) things are more so what is going on online,” he said. “That translated back to the school ... and there can be a lot of negativity in the halls. Every student should have the right to feel safe in their school.”

Adragna said the board’s recent Safe Schools Report, an annual survey of students, found that “over 95 per cent of our students system wide feel safe or very safe at school.”

However, according to last year’s report involving 4,899 students, 18 per cent or 382 were victims of bullying during the academic year and only 27 per cent (238) of victims reported the incidents to school staff.

“Things arise because we are humans, we are relationship-based and sometimes these relationships lead to conflict,” said Adragna. “That is where there’s the responsibility of the adults working with the young people to help them redirect behaviour, develop strategies, have the interventions that they need so that they learn from inappropriate decisions. (But) if I don’t know about that information then I really can’t respond to that.”

Once available, the app can be downloaded by visiting www.anonymousalerts.com/tcdsb, where incident reports can also be filed directly online.

“Keeping our schools safe, keeping our schools positive, keeping our schools as inclusive and accepting environments is everyone’s responsibility,” Adragna said. “This tool helps with that.”

CLARIFICATION – This article has been modified to clarify the uses of the app. Although the app can be used for other purposes, using it to report on teaching staff was not directly addressed during the interview and it is not an option in the drop-down menu of the app.

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