The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 6, 2013

High-tech approach to end bullying: Johnstown company creates software to help school officials track incidents

JOHNSTOWN — A Johnstown company says it has found a better way to help the nation’s schools battle bullying – with the click of a computer mouse.

A Coast 2 Coast Cellular subsidiary, Educational Development Software, has developed software aimed at enabling school officials and administrators to quickly file, report and track bullying and intimidation accusations and to spot trends, said Chief Operating Officer Lonta Townsend.

In the past two years, more that 200 schools have adopted Coast 2 Coast’s “Hibster” software program in New Jersey, where a strict 2011 law has mandated that school leaders both report and address bullying accusations. With other states considering similar moves, he said it’s creating new opportunities to take the program nationwide.

“We’ve created a universal reporting system that I don’t think anyone else can match,” said Townsend. “It gives schools a program that is set up specific to each state’s guidelines ... and streamlines the information collection and reporting process.”

Townsend and Coast 2 Coast’s operations director, Beth Freiwald, said the software was conceived three years ago as a way to help schools battle bullying at a time  that stories nationwide drew attention to students who had killed themselves because of mistreatment at school and through social messaging.

New Jersey crafted requirements in 2011 forcing state schools to document, investigate and resolve accusations both founded and unfounded.  

State guidelines require school administrators, parents involved and board leaders to be alerted of findings.

It requires a full investigation to begin at the school within a day of an accusation. The inquiry must be documented through written reports, state guidelines show.

New Jersey schools were required to hire anti-bullying specialists to handle initial bullying reports. Schools were expected to quickly implement the new guidelines, and some worried about the cost.

Townsend said that’s where Hibster comes in. The software program saves school officials time by eliminating the paper process, providing an efficient reporting program so schools “don’t have to reinvent the wheel” to comply.

School staff and administrators are able to add data into the program, selecting the type of offense and location where it occurred. They also can upload surveillance camera video or screenshots of social media harassment, if applicable, Freiwald said.

Meanwhile, parents and students can use a Web portal to report bullying allegations. Those too must be investigated, Townsend said.

Freiwald said New Jersey’s state education officials are able to review the information – with individual names redacted – to spot areas where bullying instances are high.

“They want to see the trends,” she added.

Townsend said the program  – and increased demand for it  – has kept the company busy the past year.

He said three of his employees spent most of their time with the program two years ago.  Now, as many as 15 work on Hibster, many of them new hires.

Such growth could continue, Townsend said.

Other states are considering bills patterned after New Jersey’s law, Pennsylvania among them. A bipartisan group of 95 state representatives, including Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, is working to push the Pa. Safe Schools (Pass) Act through the House, records show.

“We’re hearing some school officials say ‘How are we going to afford this. How are we going to implement it?’ ” Townsend said. “Hopefully, we can be a part of that solution.”

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