2017-10-22 / Insight

North Branch adopts OK2SAY program to report bullying

810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com

Ruth Fox Elementary School students in North Branch have access to a cyber-safety initiative called OK2SAY. Ruth Fox Elementary School students in North Branch have access to a cyber-safety initiative called OK2SAY. NORTH BRANCH — When a student is experiencing bullying, it becomes a question of who to turn to for help. And while administrators, faculty and staff at North Branch’s Ruth Fox Elementary are available for students whenever needed, sometimes an anonymous option to report bullying, self-harm, drug use or violence is important.

With the motto “Stop the silence, help end the violence,” OK2SAY is a cyber-safety initiative facilitated by the State of Michigan that provides young people with an outlet to share information related to bullying, violence or uncomfortable situations anonymously via call, text, email or through a free-to-download mobile app.

“The OK2SAY program is there for when young people feel unsafe,” said presenter for the State of Michigan Office of Attorney General Consumer Education Programs Dr. Stephany Anthony. “It’s confidential. It’s actually against the law for the state to reveal the identity of a young person contacting the service without court order or parental permission.”

North Branch Area Schools (NBAS) utilize the OK2SAY system and encourage their students to make use of the anonymous reporting system to make known troubling information. “We probably get five or six calls a year (through OK2SAY),” said Ruth Fox Elementary Principal Cindy Howe. “It might not be a lot but every one of them is important — OK2SAY gives us the peace of mind that kids are going to use it if they need to.”

When a student contacts OK2SAY, operators with the system in turn contact that student’s school. “Then we react in any way that we need to,” Howe said. “We usually also follow up with (counselors). That could be for bullying but it could also be for self-harm or anything else.”

Anthony said that in the three years the OK2SAY program has been in operation, the anonymous reporting service has been utilized more than 6,000 times by young people throughout Michigan.

“We’re proud to say that we’re able to keep the school safe because young people have stepped up,” said Anthony. It’s the aim of the OK2SAY program to overcome what Anthony referred to as a “culture of silence,” which involves students fear retaliation, rejection or stigmatization by their peers for reporting incidents of violence or aggression. “Nine out of 10 students surveyed reported they witnessed bullying on Facebook, and one out of four reported it on Twitter,” said Anthony. “The bottom line is you have to take a stand.”

According to Ruth Fox Elementary Assistant Principal Bill Barkowska, calls from OK2SAY operators are handled with high priority. “When we get an OK2SAY report, we take it very seriously,” he said. “It’s nice for the kids to have an avenue where they can call.” The program is available to students at every grade level. “When we get an OK2SAY, the state wants a pre-report and a post-report about the situation,” said Barkowska.

As online communication becomes more and more commonplace within school settings, Anthony said student safety online is of the utmost importance at the Office of the Attorney General. According to Anthony, 42 percent of 15-year-olds currently have open accounts on social media — meaning that anyone, regardless of association, can view any information listed on profiles or posted by the student. “(Young people) need to think before they post because you never know who’s looking, it could be parents, teachers, future employers or sexual predators,” said Anthony. “You need to be aware of your digital footprint.”

Though online harassment may not originate in school, often issues between students online spills over into in-person interactions, and Anthony encourages students to utilize OK2SAY before online bullying has real-world consequences.

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