Flagstaff Unified School District plans to launch its anonymous reporting mobile app, to improve the health and safety of its students and staff, by Thanksgiving.
The project was first announced at a community forum in January. Since then, district officials have met regularly with employees and students to tailor the service to students’ needs and preferences.
Using a third party anti-bullying and safety program, Anonymous Alerts, FUSD officials have spent the last six months coding the program so that specific alerts will be sent directly to the correct administrators and, when applicable, law enforcement officials, based on keywords relating to situations including bullying, school threats and suicide.
“This is a system where information can get directly to the right people at the right time,” FUSD communications director Zachery Fountain, who is leading the program’s launch, said during a presentation to the Governing Board last week.
Though hosted on the Anonymous Alerts website, FUSD will be using a QR code on all promotional materials and on its own website to direct users to the submission form.
Each report is anonymous and in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); however, reports ask for clarifying information for use in potential investigations, like submitter type (whether student, teacher, community member or more), school and the location within the school, if applicable. Written incident reports can be up to 300 characters in length. There is also an option to attach an image or video.
The app is designed as a supplement to, not a replacement of, in-person reporting.
“We don’t want this system to replace a student feeling comfortable to go to a trusted adult,” Superintendent Mike Penca said during the presentation. “We wish every student had that adult that they could go to, [but] we heard from kids that they don’t.”
Reports can be on any serious topic from abuse and bullying to threats, mental health, family problems or weapons that affect local students or schools. False reporting could lead to legal consequences.
The service is available online, as well as through the Anonymous Alerts app available for Apple, Android and Chromebook devices.
Although the FUSD alert system is online now, it will not begin accepting reports until it is launched to students in the coming weeks.
Filed reports are delivered to administrators either as an email, text message or app notification.
By default, anonymous, two-way communication, if selected by the submitter, will be available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., though schools will set their own hours as the program is finalized. Reports filed outside of these times can still be accepted for two-way communication during the next school day.
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Though community and governing members expressed concerns about immediate threats to students occurring outside of business hours, like suicide, the app contains a secondary help aspect that directs users to 24/7 services like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
Following the receipt of the report, district administrators will continue with the existing reporting procedures, as outlined in the school handbooks on the FUSD website.
“We [will] still use our same investigation procedures and community partnerships that we use now when we investigate situations,” Penca said. “This is just another way for the information to come to the school.”
Based on input from the student advisory committee, all promotional materials for the app will be focusing on student empowerment, rather than reporting, which students said creates negative perceptions among peers, like being a snitch or a tattletale.
Rather than a “see it, say it” approach, the current slogan encourages students to “be a friend, be empowered, be stronger.”
All materials will also be printed in bright colors and images (even emojis) to attract student attention. Posters will be hung in high-traffic areas and restrooms and will be updated routinely, with modifications based on the school site. Students will also be given stickers with the QR code; Fountain hopes the colorful designs will be stuck to water bottles so students have a way to access the website anytime.
“We want materials that are very eye-catching to students so it’s something new and something for them to identify with,” Fountain told the Daily Sun. “We are making sure the messages have been appropriate and are really anchored toward our student body.”
Fountain estimates this marketing process, critical to the success of the app itself, will likely cost less than $4,000 a year, a low cost for initiatives of this type, using funds from the general district budget.
Though the board suggested a few minor changes to the design, for the most part, members were pleased with the messaging that will be presented to students.
“It is focusing on the antithesis of being a snitch,” said Anne Dunno, clerk of the board.
As the app is finalized and final tests are conducted, the district will be reaching out to FUSD students, teachers and families with more information.