The TipTxt service, to be promoted with the help of the National PTA, is an extension of the Blackboard Connect product for emergency notifications and routine text, email and robocall alerts to parents, but school systems do not need to be customers to take advantage of the anti-bullying product.
Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt said the company decided to offer the product as a public service after discussions with its customers in K-12 who recognize bullying as a pervasive problem but acknowledge that most incidents never get reported. Telling kids to go to the guidance office or to visit a website to register their concerns is a real deterrent to reporting bullying, he said, whereas about 75% of kids are carrying a cell phone and most of the rest can easily get access to one. Research also shows that kids in poverty areas have more access to mobile devices than any other communications tool.
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Blackboard is offering TipTxt at no charge to every public, private and parochial K-12 school in the U.S. Participating schools will receive access to the service, a TipTxt mailbox and an assigned support staffer. The only cost is to schools that Blackboard is not absorbing is for a dedicated phone line to support the system, which can be purchased at the district level for about $125 per year.
"Some students tend to not be as comfortable with face-to-face and text is how they communicate," said Dr. Lisa Andrejko, Superintendent of Schools for Quakertown Community School District, one of the first districts to pilot the service, in a statement for the press release. "Using technology to report situations and alert school officials without having to be in their presence or be seen is a very effective means of communication and helpful in anti-bullying efforts. With TipTxt, we can help students report bullying without fear of retaliation."
The TipTxt service is meant to be confidential but not anonymous, Bhatt said. The system will track the number a message originated from so schools can follow up to ask for more details. Keyword-based filters can also trigger an automatic response, and school systems will be able to configure the rules and workflow according to their own policies.
The system is confidential in the sense that the data will not be attached to any other student record and is meant to be seen only by those responsible for enforcing anti-bullying policy, Bhatt explained. However, the tracking is in place to allow follow up on abuse of the system, such as false reports.