There's a new weapon in the battle against school bullying for students in Firebaugh and Tulare -- they can press the send/submit buttons on their smartphones or computers to deliver anonymous reports to school administrators.
In Firebaugh, for instance, an elementary student reported an incident on a school bus involving a high schooler taunting someone, Firebaugh High Principal Terry Anderson said.
The report went to a website to which the district links on its homepage.
The site automatically sent the bullying report to the school and an alert to administrators who took appropriate action.
"Anyone can make a report, including parents," Anderson said.
Anonymous reporting makes it safe for students to take action without fear of retaliation, said former middle school teacher Joe Bruzzese of Santa Barbara, creator and chief executive officer of Sprigeo.com, the website used by three schools in Firebaugh and the high schools in Tulare.
"It gives kids an opportunity to say 'I witnessed something,' " Bruzzese said.
Statistically, bullying is a significant problem for middle and high school students.
In 2009, about 28% of students ages 12 through 18 reported being bullied at school, according to the federal National Center for Education Statistics.
That was down from 32% in 2007.
Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified and Tulare Joint Union High School districts are the first in the central San Joaquin Valley to sign with the website, the company said.
The website launched in 2010 and is being used by about 500 schools in 21 states, Bruzzese said. The annual cost is $275 per school, he said.
Anonymity is guaranteed because the sender is not required to include a name and the software forwards encrypted messages, Bruzzese said. The company doesn't get a copy of the message, he said.
On average, schools get four to five reports a week, he said. They typically are two sentences long and might say, "John pushed me down in the hall and called me a loser," Bruzzese said.
False reports are rare, he said.
Sprigeo is a combination of "sprig" for a growing tree branch and "geo" for earth, Bruzzese said.
Tulare Joint Union administrator Antonio Rodriguez said the district adopted the system last year, but it's too soon to tell if it's lowering the number of bullying incidents, he said.
"It's been a pretty good tool," Rodriguez said. Administrators are required to investigate each report, and they view the system as a way to nip problems in the bud, he said.
Last year, after an older student harassed a freshman, a report came in, an administrator confirmed the incident and intervened, and the harassment stopped, Rodriguez said.
In another case, a female student tried to provoke a fight. Someone reported it via the website and an administrator brokered a truce, he said.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104, firstname.lastname@example.org or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.