Elizabethtown Area High School recently instituted an anonymous text-and-tip line for students to express concerns they may have about bullying, suicide, alcohol, drugs and related issues.
According to Elizabethtown Area High School Resource Officer Rick Farnsler, there has been “a county school violence hotline that’s been in place for years, where kids could call a 1-800 number, give any kinds of concerns about violence that might happen in the school.”
However, he never once got any tips through that hotline, so Farnsler decided to try a different approach, leaving an anonymous tip box in the hallways of the school.
He soon realized that students weren’t going to take advantage of this system. He had to think of a method of communication that students already enjoy. The answer was simple: texting. “The idea came to me…kids are into texting, and I started wondering if there was anything out there for that sort of thing,” Farnsler said.
Farnsler found many anonymous text-and-tip programs that could work online. He explained, “I wanted to make sure that kids had a way of communicating things to us that they might not have felt comfortable talking to one of us about. A lot of time people think it’s a snitch line; it’s not about that.”
The program is fairly simple. Farnsler explained the system: “What happens is you text that number, and you have to put the keyword ETOWN in there, and what happens is it goes through servers up in Canada. And then comes back down into the United States, goes through the software and then it notifies me, and there are several other people who get it also. And then I can go online and text back….[Canada has] different laws to search and seizure, so it’s truly anonymous when it goes up there. I can’t get the records to see who it is that’s texting me.” Once he receives a tip, Farnsler will get a text and an email to his phone. He then replies to the tip online.
Students in the high school were made aware of this system at the beginning of the school year through business cards and posters.
“I’ve had already three different instances, where students texted us because they thought their friends were going do something major, like harming themselves. And then there was another one where a girl was considering doing something bad, and we happened to intercept it. I don’t care about busting someone for something stupid; it’s about keeping the school safe,” Farnsler said.
However, there are some who think it’s a joke. “We’ve had some prank texts, and we expected that; they’re high school kids.”
Overall this new system seems to be a success. In the four previous years, Farnsler received zero tips, but since this system has been in place, he has received over 60.
“There’s pros and cons to the anonymous thing,” Farnsler said. “The pros are that somebody can know that they can text it, and it truly be anonymous, and then of course you have the downside, if somebody wants to mess with it, but, again, I can block numbers.”
“Every school has its issues,” Farnsler said. “There’s drugs, there’s bullying…I don’t care where you go. And this just gives kids who might be afraid to get it out there and tell someone another avenue.”
The high school seems to have a system that works well, but many may not realize that here at Elizabethtown College, a similar system exists. Director of Campus Security Jack Longenecker explained, “It’s online. You can use your name, or it can be anonymous. The email goes directly to me, to my account. And you can report any crime, past or present.”
So far, Etown’s online system hasn’t been quite as successful as the text line at the high school, but it’s a work in progress. “It took affect in the fall semester, and I’ve only had three that have come through. It says you can report suspicious activity,” Longenecker said. “In reality, we’re here 24 hours a day. If you see something suspicious or there’s a crime in progress, I’d rather you call the dispatch right away, versus sending me an email. If it’s two o’clock in the morning, I’m not going to read my email.”
If a student has an issue, they are encouraged to call Campus Security right away, rather than submit the concern online. Assistant Director of Campus Security Dale Boyer emphasized, “Anything that’s time dependent, please, please, please call extension 1111 right away.” He also made it very clear that students should feel free to contact them at anytime. “We definitely have an open door policy…. It’s another venue, another form for people to contact us,” Boyer said. “The more opportunities we have for people, the better the chances are that somebody’s going to take advantage of that.”
Students are encouraged to call Campus Security or use the blue light telephones around campus if they are ever in immediate danger. If students need to report a problem anonymously, they are encouraged to use the online form.
The goal of both programs is to keep students safe. With the participation of students, faculty and the community, we can make Etown a safer place to live and learn.