Shelby County Schools looking into new app to help students report bullying

School bullying by the numbers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Fernando Montiel’s family says he was bullied, but they had no idea until after he took his own life. Neither did his school.

A weeks-long investigation by Shelby County Schools is now complete after the White Station High School freshman’s death. Montiel’s family says he never told them about the bullying. SCS confirms he never reported the bullying to anyone at his school.

“On the inside we’re broken,” said Enrique Montiel Flores, Montiel’s brother. “We’re devastated.”

Montiel was just 15 when he took his own life. His family says they only learned of the bullying after his death in April.

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New analysis from the Centers for Disease Control shows one in five high school students reported being bullied at school over the past year.

SCS has a strict policy against bullying, cyber-bullying, harassment and intimidation. The district has detailed procedures on how to handle allegations of bullying.

“The school has 24 hours to respond when we receive a report of bullying from a parent or a student, and then the principal has 48 hours to conduct the investigation,” said Patricia Toarmina, SCS chief of academic operations.

Some cases require district leaders to step in.

“We just come in with basically fresh eyes, fresh ears to look at the situation, review the information,” said Angela Hargrave, SCS director of student equality. “Even conduct additional interviews if needed.”

School districts across Tennessee are required to submit annual compliance reports to state officials documenting cases of bullying, harassment and intimidation. Data from SCS that shows investigations into thousands of bullying cases over a three-year span.

Data submitted by SCS to the Tennessee Department of Education shows more than 4,000 reports of bullying, harassment or intimidation since 2015.

During the 2015-2016 school year, students and parents reported 1,419 cases of bullying. School officials confirmed 1,286 of those reports after investigating.

For the 2016-2017 year, data shows 1,645 reported cases of bullying or harassment and confirmed 1,398 of those reports.

In 2017-2018, 1,138 of the 1,268 reports of bullying were confirmed.

Data for the 2018-2019 school year is not yet available, but SCS is already looking ahead to the next school year and a potential partnership with the developers of an app called STOP IT to help students feel safer about reporting bullies.

“If we don’t know something is happening we can’t do anything about it,” said Hargrave.

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Neil Hooper, chief operating officer of STOP IT, says more than 3,800 schools are using the anonymous reporting tool, some right here in west Tennessee. It works in real time and allows students to report any kind of incident to officials via private message.

“If such and such happens, this is the series of calls that our operators will make to try and make contact with the school,” said Hooper. “And in fact, that also includes calling local law enforcement.”

It’s a potential solution to a problem impacting schools nationwide and families like Montiel’s.

“If you feel my pain, make a change,” said Flores. “Make a change. Make a difference in the Shelby County Schools system.”

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