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St. Paul school unveils confidential text-a-tip program

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St. Paul schools are rolling out a new program that allows students to confidentially text school officials about bullying, theft, crime and other issues – without fear of being labeled a snitch.

The TipTxt initiative is already in use at Central High School, offering students and district officials a two-way messaging system, the St. Paul School District says on its website. The district plans to make TipTxt available districtwide for the 2014-15 school year.

"I think the biggest draw is that they don't turn themselves into a target," Danny Kieffer, a principal on assignment at Central Senior High School, told the Pioneer Press. "They're doing something that is natural as breathing to them, where nobody is going to think anything about the kid next to them texting in the lunch room."

The school urges students, staff and parents to use the service, which is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by district safety staff. Students are allowed to text between classes, during lunch or before and after school, the school says, but are reminded to call 911 if it's an emergency.

"We envision this as just another way to collect information," Scott Brownell, manager of security and emergency management for the district, told the Pioneer Press. "Texting is something that our students are doing all the time, and I think it's something that people are going to be more comfortable with and more likely to share because of the confidential nature of it."

Students are already using the service, which was introduced last week. In one case, a fan overheated at the school causing smoke, and the school notified the district, but a text about the smell of burned rubber had already been sent to the tip line, the Pioneer Press says. The school has also received tips of suspected bullying.

Various Minnesota school districts have started using similar programs. Minneapolis schools partnered with city departments, allowing youths to call or text tips, according to the Minneapolis Public Schools website. Anoka-Hennepin is preparing to launch a smartphone application that lets students send in tips, the Pioneer Press says. Elk River schools also have a text-a-tip program to combat violence, according to the school's website.

In the last few years, police departments nationwide have unveiled texting programs. One text-a-tip program in Colorado is credited with stopping a student allegedly plotting to kill other students in 2009, the Pioneer Press says.

Washington, D.C.-based Blackboard created TipTxt last year. It is available for all K-12 schools free of charge. Schools just need a dedicated phone line and Blackboard takes care of the remaining costs, according to Education News. Several dozen districts and hundreds of schools in the U.S. have started using the program. The St. Paul school district is the biggest TipTxt adopter in Minnesota, the Pioneer Press says.

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