Later this month, the Ardsley School District plans to adopt Anonymous Alerts, a phone app that allows students to submit anonymous reports about safety issues, from bullying to life-threatening situations. 

White Plains-based Anonymous Alerts provided the Covid-19 surveillance screening app parents used daily beginning last October for children returning to the classroom.

Students will be able to immediately and anonymously report incidents to a school administrator through the app (on Android or Apple phones) or through a web browser, with a photo, screenshot, or video attached. The administrators, who will also remain anonymous, will be able to communicate directly with the student. The app also has links to resources for additional support in certain situations, for example if there’s a concern about self-harm.

The district will first offer the app to middle and high school students and their parents, though no one is required to use it. The district recognizes that most Concord Road Elementary students aren’t using cellphones, but is discussing how to enable them to report incidents.

Schools Superintendent Ryan Schoenfeld spoke with the Enterprise on Jan. 10 about Anonymous Alerts, which the Dobbs Ferry and Irvington school districts, among others, are already using. 

“It was something that we felt would be another tool in our toolbox and give children another tool in their toolbox, because not all children feel comfortable talking to adults, and this provides an opportunity for them,” he explained. “The first stage is to interface with an adult who loves and cares for the children. Students won’t even know who they’re talking to.” 

Anonymous Alerts is a flexible tool. The district can customize the app according to its needs, such as multiple languages, and the types of incidents students can report (bullying, mental health issues, weapons on campus, etc.). 

The mobile app has a feature that in certain cases allows users to click on a button resembling a red phone icon to access a list of emergency numbers, including 911; school districts can customize other numbers they want listed.

The app operates only from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. According to Schoenfeld, if a report comes in after that time, it will be dealt with the next school day.

Before Anonymous Alerts goes online, the company’s support team will train the designated administrators in handling reports. Company president Greg Bender, who created Anonymous Alerts in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, told the Enterprise that the schools make their own rules. 

“Typically, administrators would abide by their district’s procedures and protocols and rope in appropriate personnel to be involved in the incident, based on the nature of the incident,” Bender said. 

Schoenfeld talked about the follow-up that an administrator may provide for a student who reported or was involved in an incident. “We’ll steer them to talk to a counselor or a parent, depending on what’s being reported,” he noted. 

Regarding potential complaints of invasion of privacy, Bender said, “Data in the Anonymous Alerts system is under the control of the client, the school administrator. They already have procedures and protocols in place regarding information. We are under confidentiality with each client, each district. It is up to them how they will use the information and follow their individual procedures and protocols.”

There is no cost for downloading the app; school districts pay an annual fee, which is determined according to the number of users, how many personnel are trained, how much customization is involved, and possibly other factors.

Altaris, the security consulting company that began working with the district at the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year setting up safety plans for each school, recommended implementing Anonymous Alerts. 

Schoenfeld and Bender were both asked about the possibility of Anonymous Alerts being used to create false reports.

Schoenfeld responded, “We’ll take every matter seriously, however when we’ve spoken to the company, [Bender said] the false reporting doesn’t occur very often… Anonymous Alerts is by and large used for the right reasons. We’ll… get to the bottom of the matter and respond appropriately. We feel we have responsible kids who are still growing and developing. We can support every individual and help keep our district safe.”

Bender stated his most important message to children is, “Your voice is truly powerful, so if you see something, do something. Speaking up to share issues and safety concerns is important to create safer school environments for you and your friends. It is also important to demonstrate kindness and always remember the Golden Rule.” 

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