Some Lowcountry schools set up “bully boxes” as a way for students to drop off anonymous notes reporting bullying, intimidation or harassment.
One South Carolina lawmaker wants to modernize the bully box by taking it online.
Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, has filed a bill that would require every school and district in the state to have a form on its website by Sept. 1 where students could anonymously report bullying.
The online pages would be called “Report-a-Bully in School Website,” and a link to it would be conspicuously displayed on every school and district’s home page.
“This is another tool to fight the problem of bullying in schools and to refocus the energy in schools into education,” Limehouse said.
He heard about a school in the Midwest that was doing this, and he said he thought it a wonderful idea that needed to be expanded to more schools. He would like to see it become a federal mandate.
“My hope is that if South Carolina adopts this, it will be a test state for the country,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to cost a dime.”
Curt Lavarello is executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, which hosts the National Conference on Bullying.
Lavarello said he was unaware of any state that had required all districts and schools to have this kind of website, although that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened.
He considered South Carolina’s proposal to be a best-practice that would be in line with what he recommends to schools across the country. It’s a good concept because it uses technology and the Internet, which is how today’s kids feel comfortable communicating, he said. Schools with outdated means of reporting bullying, such as requiring students to go to the office to tell someone, need to re-evaluate their practices because kids might not come forward to report bullying, Lavarello said.
“I would say it’s a good strategy, but it can’t be your only strategy,” he said. “There’s got to be a more comprehensive strategy than just a website.”
Lavarello said teachers and staff need to be trained how to identify students who have been bullied, staff needs to be visible to students throughout the day, and schools need to have climates where students know bullying is taken seriously. He also suggested strong partnerships with police because not all bullying happens during the school day.
Limehouse said he didn’t suggest that this website be the only anti-bullying effort schools make. It’s another way for schools to fight bullying, which is a pervasive problem, he said.
“It can wreck the lives of young people if it’s not properly addressed,” Limehouse said.
The bill would require schools to investigate any reported allegations, and the school would have to report monthly the number of submissions from students. The South Carolina Board of Education also would be tasked with creating model policies for implementing and promoting the website, and it would have a template form that schools could use.
Bob Stevens, who works on discipline and behavior for Charleston County School District, said he was glad to see bullying receiving attention as an important issue.
The school district already has an anonymous hotline — 877-250-2790 — for reporting bullying or safety concerns, and that receives about one call every two weeks. Schools also are required to have someone designated to receiving complaints regarding bullying.
The school district has a new bullying task force that’s looking at standard policies for schools, and they were evaluating the possibility of creating the kind of website that the new law would require.
“The district is seeing the need to go further,” he said.