BPS Introduces TipTxt to Stop Bullying

Student can now report incidents of bullying via text message.

The combination of kids, school, and cell phones has been widely documented here and elsewhere as fraught terrain for parents to navigate. The kids are sexting! They’re using SnapChat! They’re harassing each other via text message! And if it’s not easy for parents to handle (ahem), it’s definitely way complicated for kids to sort out.

Which is why the Blackboard TipTxt program that’s being implemented by Boston Public Schools is so compelling. Rolled out this week to sync up with the start of the school year, TipTxt allows students to text counselors in the school system when they witness or experience bullying. It’s an extension of the Bullying Prevention Hotline created by BPS, says Jodie Elgee, the director of the district’s counseling and intervention center. But while the hotline has received more than 350 calls in the past two years, it didn’t end up fulfilling the purpose for which it was intended. “It was put in place originally to be used as an anonymous reporting tool,” for students, says Elgee, “but what we found was that there were few—maybe two—anonymous tips. Most calls were by parents or caregivers and certainly wanted to be identified.” The texting service is aimed to “engage students in a way we know they’re comfortable with,” she says, and allows them to do so without fear of retaliation.

Students are encouraged to send their tips to TipText at 617-765-7125. The usual BPS cellphone policy still applies, so texts can only be sent before or after school hours and not during class time. Elgee says the students will automatically get a response that lets them know that their report was received, and when certain keywords are included that indicate an urgent safety concern, a message back will include safety protocols or encourage the student to call 911. Counselors anticipate that they’ll also be able to converse with students via text while encouraging them to eventually reach out or meet with the intervention staff directly.

Given that most students of a certain age would rather talk with their thumbs, TipTxt has the potential to become an improvement over the hotline. Elgee says she’s eager to see how the students will use it. “It’s a wonderful chance to engage students and connect them with adults,” she says.