Ottawa School Board creates anonymous tip line to report bullying and threats

The reporting tool allows students to text or chat with a school board official from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on school days.

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The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has created a whistleblower tool for high school students to anonymously report bullying and other threats.

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The reporting tool allows students to text or chat with a school board official from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on school days to anonymously share any “concerns about their health, well-being and their safety or that of others. board of directors announced.

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This could include concerns about mental health issues, safety, bullying, hate, discrimination or abuse, board spokesperson Darcy Knoll said in an email.

The announcement comes after a pupil at Gloucester High School was attacked by a group of young men earlier this month near the school. Video posted on social media showed the student being pushed to the ground and youngsters kicking him and stomping on his head.

A petition started by parents called the beatings “heartbreaking and brutal” and called on the school board and Department of Education to take action to ensure such abuse does not happen again. By Thursday, 11,500 people had signed the petition.

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Plans for the board’s anonymous reporting tool have been in the works since 2019 and it has been piloted in seven schools. The tool is now available to all high school students and will be extended to middle elementary students later this year, the board says.

An earlier statement from the board about the assault on the Gloucester High student said the reporting tool was a way for the board to take action to “create a positive school climate where all students feel safe, valued and know they belong…”

The reporting tool is not intended to replace 911 for emergencies, the council said.

Students are always encouraged to contact teachers, principals or other school staff if there is a problem. “While this can never replace the support a student receives at school, it does create an additional way for students to share concerns about their school experience,” Knoll said.

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Students may want to file an anonymous complaint for a variety of reasons. For example, a student might not want to be seen going to the desk or the teacher to report a problem, the board said.

The text number is 613-704-2686. The identity of the student making the call is not revealed because the sender’s number is encrypted and scrambled, the council said. The online chat option is also anonymous. An app will be available later.

Information provided by the student will be passed on to school and board administrators.

“How school staff and/or the OCDSB will respond to a concern or incident will depend on the situation,” the board said in a statement. “We appreciate the courage it may have taken to report an issue. School staff are trained to use submitted information in a way that respects anonymity and protects others.

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What about students worried that the person they’re complaining about knows?

“Directors are trained in the use of submitted information,” the board statement said. “If they get a name reported as part of an issue, they’re not going to confront anybody right away. However, they will be able to monitor more carefully and intervene to help without anyone knowing that a report has been made.

Staff using the reporting tool are not advisors but can provide information to students on how to find other services.

Sharanya Sivasathiyanathan, co-chair of the Rideau Students Union and a Grade 10 student at John McCrae High School, said the tool is a “step in the right direction.”

The Rideau Students’ Union is a volunteer group representing high school students across the city.

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There are pros and cons to anonymous reporting, she noted.

OTTAWA – May 20, 2022 – Sharanya Sivasathiyanathan is Co-Chair of the Rideau Students Union, an advocacy group that represents students across Ottawa.
OTTAWA – May 20, 2022 – Sharanya Sivasathiyanathan is Co-Chair of the Rideau Students Union, an advocacy group that represents students across Ottawa. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

“First, for high school students who can’t or are afraid to speak out against their bully, it serves as a way to seek help without the possible risks of revealing their identity; ensure their safety throughout the process.

“I personally haven’t been bullied, but I can imagine that for someone my age to experience this kind of hate or harassment and having to reveal their identity in addition to sharing what happened to them, what would be particularly terrifying. This encourages denouncing hatred not only as a victim, but also as a witness to the circumstances.

On the other hand, anonymous reports can be misused, Sivasathiyanathan said. Students might misreport facts, either intentionally or because they misjudged a situation, she said.

Additionally, students could mistakenly use the tool to report emergencies requiring police intervention, such as the assault near Gloucester High School, she said.

Sivasathiyanathan suggested the board expand the whistleblower line to include conversations with qualified counselors, which many students would find helpful.

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