Hamilton's public school board plans to launch a mobile app for students to anonymously report when they're bullied.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board hopes to launch the TipOff app for iPhone and Android phones sometime this month. The app, which is new to Ontario, makes it easier and more convenient for students to report when they're bullied, said Pam Reinholdt, the board's superintendent of student achievement.
In the past, students have been reluctant to report when they're bullied, she said.
With the app, "we're working with schools to make sure they have an anonymous way to do that," she said.
Students and staff at Saltfleet, Westdale, Waterdown, Sir Winston Churchill and Glendale high schools, as well as Cardinal Heights elementary, will participate in a three-month pilot project.
A number of boards are looking at the app, but Hamilton will be the first Ontario board to formally adopt it, Reinholdt said.
"We're very excited about it."
InTouch Mobile developed the app, which is still being tested. Wilfrid Laurier University uses similar technology — where a text is sent to a central communications line — to report campus security issues.
The app will appeal to many students, said Noah Parker, communications officer with the Ontario Student Trustees' Association (OSTA) and a Burlington high school student.
"I know giving students the option of doing it anonymously makes them a lot more comfortable," he said.
Definition of bullying changes
Students belong to a tech-savvy generation, and they use mobile phones for "almost every aspect of their everyday lives," he said. The OSTA will watch how Hamilton's pilot project unfolds.
"We applaud Hamilton for making steps in the right direction," Parker said. "This is something that could be adopted by school boards across the province."
Reinholdt updated trustees on the app at a HWDSB meeting Monday when they reviewed the latest draft of the board's anti-bullying policy.
The new policy has some revisions, including:
- The definition of bullying has been changed from "typically aggressive and repeated behaviour" to "aggressive and typically repeated behaviour." This change reflects the fact that bullying can often be a single incident, Reinholdt said.
- There is more intensive support for the student who did the harm, as well as informing his or her parents more on the nature of the bullying.
Why students are bullied
Reinholdt also presented the results of last year's Safe, Equitable and Inclusive Schools survey, when the board surveyed 5,403 elementary students and 4,617 high school students on issues related to bullying and school safety.
Highlights of the results:
- Verbal bullying was the most common form of bullying, with 14 to 21 per cent of students reporting that they had been verbally bullied.
- About 21 per cent of students were victims of bullying, where as about 13 per cent said they had bullied someone.
- The most reported reason for bullying was appearance, which has piqued the board's interest, Reinholdt said. When the next survey is distributed in May, it will include more questions around bullying and appearance. Other top reasons include grades and sexual orientation.
- More than half of the students say they enjoy being at school, and more than 66 per cent think it's a friendly, welcoming place. About 80 per cent said they feel safe in school "most of the time."
Religion accounted for about five per cent of bullying cases.
A local religious group, the Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton, has opposed the board's anti-bullying policy, saying it doesn't adequately protect students who are bullied on the basis of their Christianity.