Almost three years after several students were disciplined for video recording a fight in their high school's locker room, an app developed by the Beaufort County School District to combat bullying includes a feature that would allow users to do just that.
The "See Something, Say Something" app allows students to upload a photo or video of a bullying incident.
Many district and board officials said this new app to report bullying anonymously -- which has been installed on all students' school-issued electronic tablets -- will be one more tool to help curb bullying.
However, the new feature raises questions about how it should be used and whether it truly furthers the district's message of "see something, say something," or creates bystanders.
School board chairman Bill Evans believes it furthers the intended message.
"What we are doing with this is that if you see something that is going on that shouldn't be, and you have your phone, then you can take a picture of it, and it is going to be a help to us," Evans said. "Sometimes things get reported, and we don't know who instigated or was involved in the incident, so this will help with that."
That was not the case in October 2011, when four Hilton Head Island High School students stood by and recorded with their cellphones as one student beat another boy. Those four bystanders were disciplined by the school; the student who delivered the beating was arrested and charged with third-degree assault and battery, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office report.
Evans said that situation was different because some of the bystanders with phone videos knew the fight was coming and did nothing to stop it.
The feature raises another question: Should a student snap a picture or record a video instead of summoning an adult?
Superintendent Jeff Moss said the feature is a last resort.
"We do expect them to go locate an adult," he said. "We do not expect a student to try to stop what's happening by engaging others, who may put themselves in harm's way."
As the district rolls out its electronic tablets to all students and teachers in elementary and middle schools this fall -- high school students will get them later this year -- the district will instruct the students on how to use the devices. The training includes sessions on cyberbullying as well as using the bully-reporting app, Moss said.
He does not expect the photo and video feature to be used often, and likely would be more for documenting something that has been written or drawn on someone's locker or to obtain a screen shot of something online, for example.
"I don't think we will get many submissions this way," Moss said. "But we thought it was best to add that feature just in case someone had a photo or video."
Evans said this feature can also be helpful when bullying occurs and an adult is not present or nearby to intervene.
"Some of these things naturally take place when the bully feels there is no adult supervision around to deal with that stuff," said Evans, who was principal at Hilton Head High for many years, but not during the beating incident. "So if we provide a way for students to take a picture and send it in to someone in authority, that could help us address those things we don't see."
He hopes the photo and video option will serve as a preventive measure, "causing bullies to think twice before bullying someone." Evans said he believes students will use it responsibly and not stage fake bullying events.
District officials have said the app is not directly related to the April 30 suicide of Robert Smalls Middle School sixth-grader Celeste Wills, who parents and friends said was bullied.
Wills' mother said Thursday she believes an app would be a good way to reach students. Clarissa Wills said she is pleased the district is moving forward with the app, and the photo and video feature will help in cases when teachers aren't present.
"I don't see why the app would hurt any," Clarissa Wills said. "If anything, it will help.
"And (this feature) will show exactly what's going on, and these bullies need to be held accountable for it."
To report bullying in the Beaufort County School District anonymously, go to http://saysomethingbcsd.com/.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Beaufort County schools previews new app for reporting bullying, August 9, 2014
- Beaufort County schools to implement new anti-bullying initiatives, July 14, 2014
- Anti-bullying task force formed after Beaufort County 6th-grader's suicide, June 16, 2014
- Investigators of 12-year-old's suicide await test results from electronics, June 6, 2014
- School district continues battle against bullying, says it needs help, May 11, 2014
- Beaufort sixth-grader who committed suicide chronicled struggles online, May 7, 2014
- Family vows to be voice of change in wake of daughter's suicide, May 6, 2014
- District anti-bullying push on track, experts say, November 19, 2011
- Fight at Hilton Head High spurs district-wide anti-bullying day, October 20, 2011