School safety service eyed

Interim chief wants to subscribe to site for reporting threats

$77,800 for three years

Via Net or phone, students retain their anonymity

February 04, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel students would be able to anonymously report threats of violence or suicide through an Internet site and accompanying phone tip line under a proposal being considered by the school board.

Interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson has recommended the school board spend $77,800 to subscribe to Report-it.com, a 3-year-old Web site that relays to school administrators safety concerns reported by students.

The service also provides a toll-free telephone hot line that connects students with trained counselors, available 24 hours a day, who promise anonymity to students reporting threats of violence.

The county school board is expected to vote Wednesday on Lawson's recommendation that the schools sign a three-year contract with Report-it.com, based in Great River, N.Y. The second and third years of the contract would cost the school system $25,592 per year.

"If it truly contributes to more responsible conduct and behavior by our students and makes our schools more secure, then that's something that's worth very serious consideration," said school board member Vaughn Brown of Hanover.

School officials say that a key to creating a safe school climate is open communication between students and administrators. But peer pressure and fear of retribution keep some students from going directly to school staff, officials said.

"The old days of a suggestion box in the principal's office isn't going to cut it anymore," said Huntley Cross, special assistant for alternative programs for the Anne Arundel school system.

While many school systems have telephone hot lines for students to report threats, few have Web sites, even though today's students grew up in a computer age.

"Kids have become more connected to computers than we can imagine," Cross said.

To file a report, students go to Report-it.com and enter a password for their school, such as its mascot. Then they are directed to an Internet page set up specifically for their school, with phone numbers of local health and emergency organizations.

If students don't want to call local agencies, they can anonymously submit a report. Report-it.com staff monitors the site 24 hours a day and contacts school officials within 30 minutes if there is a threat of violence.

Otherwise, school officials receive an e-mail alerting them that a report was filed, which they can retrieve from a secure Web site.

"The more stuff you know in the morning about what's going on in your school, the better off you are," Cross said.

The founder of Report-it.com, Anthony Lavalle, will be at the school board meeting Wednesday to answer questions. He said more than 70 schools in 13 states have signed up for his service since 1999 - and the annual renewal rate is 100 percent.

In at least one school, officials were able to get help for a suicidal student because his friend submitted a report on the Web site, Lavalle said.

"We wanted to provide a mechanism that students feel comfortable using," Lavalle said. "It's a place for kids to go and get help. It's not only about anonymous reporting. It's also about encouraging communication when a student feels his or her safety may be at stake."

The Anne Arundel school board first considered subscribing to Report-it.com last summer, but hesitated because at the time it was an Internet-only service, which meant some children wouldn't have access.

But in the fall, the service partnered with the Girls and Boys Town National Hotline to give students the option of calling counselors to get help or report threats.

"Now," said Cross, "we can have the best of both worlds."

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