By David Hurst
CNHI News Service
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — A Pennsylvania company says it has found a better way to help the nation's schools battle bullying – with the click of a computer mouse.
A program called Hibster, created by Coast 2 Coast Cellular, allows school officials to quickly file, report and track bullying and intimidation accusations and to spot trends, said Chief Operating Officer Lonta Townsend.
In the past two years, more that 200 schools have adopted the Hibster software program in New Jersey, where a strict 2011 law has mandated that school leaders both report and address bullying accusations. With other states considering similar moves, Townsend said the company has new opportunities to take the program nationwide.
"We've created a universal reporting system that I don't think anyone else can match," said Townsend. "It gives schools a program that is set up specific to each state's guidelines ... and streamlines the information collection and reporting process."
Coast 2 Coast's operations director, Beth Freiwald, said the software was conceived three years ago as a way to help schools battle bullying. The development came at a time when stories across the country drew attention to students who had killed themselves because of mistreatment at school and through social networks.
New Jersey crafted requirements in 2011 forcing state schools to document, investigate and resolve accusations of bullying. State guidelines require school administrators, parents involved and board leaders to be alerted of findings. Schools were expected to quickly implement the new guidelines, and some worried about the cost.
Townsend said that's where Hibster comes in. The software program saves school officials time by eliminating the paper process, providing an efficient reporting program so schools "don't have to reinvent the wheel" to comply.
School staff and administrators are able to add data into the program, selecting the type of offense and location where it occurred. They also can upload surveillance camera video or screenshots of social media harassment, if applicable, Freiwald said.
Meanwhile, parents and students can use a Web portal to report bullying allegations. Those too must be investigated, Townsend said.
Freiwald said New Jersey's state education officials are able to review the information – with individual names redacted – to spot areas where bullying instances are high.
"They want to see the trends," she added.
Other states are considering bills patterned after New Jersey's law, Pennsylvania among them. A bipartisan group of 95 state representatives is working to push the Pa. Safe Schools (Pass) Act through the House.
Hurst writes for The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pa.