Does your school’s safety and security plan include the use of an anonymous reporting system? More schools are beginning to look in to these types of apps and online tools to enhance existing policies and procedures.
Anonymous reporting includes the tools or methods for students, parents, teachers, or employees to quickly make an anonymous report of bullying, cyber bullying, harassment, employee misconduct, thoughts of suicide, violence, and other safety issues without fear of reprisals. Examples of reporting tools include text apps, websites, or phone reporting. Anonymous reports are then delivered to designated staff within your school and may also go to local authorities. Some systems also come with a 24/7 triage service that monitors incoming reports for your school.
Anonymous reporting is only effective if there is a robust action plan in place. When developing an action plan, consider working with local experts, including law enforcement, and an attorney to ensure compliance with local laws. Your plan will include procedures and action items, such as who will receive the reports and what steps are taken based on the type of report. For example, an anonymous report of bullying requires a different response than a report of a suicide threat. There needs to be a clear chain of command, including who will receive the reports and how they’ll respond. It’s important to have a process for investigating tips, including when to contact local law enforcement or department of child services.
Some states, such as Texas, are requiring public schools to implement an anonymous reporting tool. Additionally, Christian schools, colleges, and universities that receive any kind of federal funding must have a mechanism that enables victims to make a report, and remain anonymous if desired, to comply with Title IX laws.
An anonymous reporting plan should include the following:
When evaluating potential reporting systems, check with your city or state to see if they are already using a specific service. Using the same anonymous reporting service may be a good option, especially if it’s managed by local law enforcement. This can help ensure 24-hour monitoring, speed up the response time, and minimize the potential liability when handling sensitive data.
Also check with other schools in your area to see what tools they are using. Ask about what they’ve learned since implementing anonymous reporting, benefits, challenges, and what they would change.
If you use a content management platform provider for your school website, you may be able to set up an anonymous reporting form on your website or on a microsite. Check to see if your vendor has a reporting module that you can add to your website or to your school’s app, if you have one.
As you research online anonymous reporting systems, ask the vendor rep to walk your team through a demo. Also ask for two or three current school customers that you can talk with about their experience with the app and service.
Churches and camps that have a desire to implement anonymous reporting for staff, youth activities, or their congregation should consider who will get the reports and how they’ll respond, including how they’ll conduct the necessary investigation. For some reports, especially those involving youth, it may be best to immediately forward those to local law enforcement so they can initiate an investigation. Make sure to follow mandatory reporting laws involving reports of abuse.
Once you have an anonymous reporting tool in place, it is important to closely monitor its use and effectiveness. Your policy should include continuous improvement to make sure the reporting system is functioning well for your needs. As the reporting system is used, the data can help you make improvements to your response and follow-up actions.
Communication is key. During each school year, share with students, parents, faculty, and staff, about key features of the system you’re using, how it works, when to use it, and what to expect should they make an anonymous report.
Posted December 2019 Updated August 2020
The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
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