App allows Chiles students to anonymously report threats, tips to administration

Published: May. 10, 2018 at 2:01 PM EDT
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By: Erika Fernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News

May 10, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Tragedies like the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida are happening all too often. Studies show more people have been hurt or killed in mass school shootings in the last 18 years than in the entire 20th century.

Leon County Schools uses an email list to notify parents of threats or concerns on campuses, but one high school is giving the students an easier way to voice their concerns.

From one class to another, the high school years and the students living them move at a very swift pace.

"Every day you send your kids to school and you pray that they're going to come home," said Chiles High School parent, Ana Sutherland.

Ana’s daughter, Maddy, is a senior at Chiles. She's graduating soon, but still, her mother Ana worries every single day.

"How safe is she? What would happen if somebody came in that had a gun? What would they do? Are they ready?" Ana asks.

More than 2,100 students attend Chiles High School on Tallahassee’s north side.

"A lot of times, things were happening and we had students who wanted to say something but didn't have the courage," said Principal Joe Burgess.

Burgess said after the passing of 14-year-old Ansley Rayborn, he wanted every student to feel comfortable coming forward.

"I need to know and we need the opportunity to look into those things," Burgess said.

Rayborn was killed in a 2015 crash. She was thrown from a car, and first responders found drugs and alcohol at the scene. That's when Burgess and his staff turned to a tool students know best: their smartphone.

They found Anonymous Alerts. It allows students to report threats or tips without revealing who they are.

"We’re here to save lives. That's what we do every day," said the founder and president of Anonymous Alerts, Greg Bender.

Bender developed the app five years ago. Since then, more than 5,000 schools have signed up. Downloads have doubled since the Parkland shooting.

Bender said, typically within the first six months of downloading the app, schools see up to a 50 percent drop in bullying, drugs, and weapons on campuses.

"By downloading the app and using the app, students feel safe, parents feel comfortable," Bender said.

Here in Florida and Georgia, over 1,000 schools use Anonymous Alerts, but Chiles is the only one in Leon County.

"This has been a fast-moving year in terms of enhancements in school security. For Chiles, I know they were looking for a tool to get information anonymously from students. And for them, it's been very effective," said Chief of Safety and Security for LCS, John Hunkiar.

Hunkiar said buying the app, Anonymous Alerts, was a choice made by the school, not the district. Although, other schools have different ways of reporting emergencies, like "See Something, Say Something". It’s a video campaign that encourages students to speak up about dangerous activity.

At Chiles, Anonymous Alerts has helped identify homeless students, prevent suicides, and even address weapons and drug use on campus. While some high-tech tips prove to be phony, Principal Burgess believes the app is still resourceful.

"I’d rather have 1,000 ridiculous ones than the one that could have saved somebody's life," Burgess said.

Young lives that mean so much to educators, and parents like Ana.

"Are you ever really ready for something like that?" Ana said.

Especially as Ana’s daughter transitions from the halls of high school to a college campus.

Hunkiar said the district is in talks with other app providers, and they're planning to launch something similar in all secondary schools. Next semester, they're implementing a new system called Focus, where they will have access to students' phone numbers to send them alerts when an incident occurs.