Do Schools Really Want to Know Their Risk?

By Michael J. Martin | June 21, 2023 | 3 min read
Schools willful ignorance

It’s a common scenario in schools: there’s an exam coming up, and a student doesn’t want to take it. Rather than face the test unprepared, the student calls in a bomb threat. The district must take the threat seriously, so school is closed down for the day and the police are called.

What if, however, a school used a solution that didn’t allow students to report safety issues anonymously? The accountability might cut down on things like school bombings, but the flip side is that students are likely to report actual threats…. and schools might not want to actually know what their risk is.

The trouble with anonymous reporting in schools

Anonymous threat reporting seems like an attractive option; school officials may feel that anonymous reports may encourage students to say something if they see a threat. However, accountability-free reporting suffers from accuracy issues, and according to a recent report, an increasing number of K-12 no longer allow for anonymous reporting.

Without accountability, incidents can be reported for a variety of reasons and there are no consequences for the person who falsely reports an incident. This means more students might be inspired to falsely report incidents in order to get a consequence-free day off of school, or to get out of a test.

Take bomb threats, which have been on the rise since 2014. They affect schools at every level of education, from preschool through higher education, although they are most prevalent in middle and high school. In fact, more than a quarter of all bomb threats in 2021 were called into middle and high schools, according to the ATF. Actual school bombings are rare, however, and real bombings are seldom preceded by a threat. They’re also costly: a single bomb threat can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; a recent report found that the May 16 bomb threat at Prairie View A&M University cost more than $315,000.

Anonymous vs. confidential reporting in higher education

Anonymous reporting in higher education is a bit different. The U.S. Department of Education established “voluntary, confidential” reporting in 1999 as a compromise to continue to include statistics for reports made to mental health or religious counselors. The law is more than simply allowing anonymous reports: schools don’t have to offer a confidential reporting option, and if they do, they must meet a specific set of criteria.

Rather than do that, many colleges offer an anonymous option for reporting, but there’s a problem with that: the law differentiates between “confidential” and “anonymous” reports. Anonymous reports are unregulated by the Clery Act, and therefore institutions do not have to report them as they would have to report confidential disclosures.

Accountable threat reporting may tell you things you don’t like hearing

The student body is often much more aware of a schools’ actual risk than administrators are. Students know which students are talking about self-harm, mass shootings, or hurting a classmate. Students also tend to be much more aware of unsafe behavior, such as drug use on campus, alcohol abuse, bullying, and teachers who may be having inappropriate relationships with students.

Wouldn’t you like that kind of detailed intel about your risk? Most organizations would. However, although accountable reporting tools for schools are cost-effective and easy to obtain, there is a drawback: many schools aren’t ready to confront the truth about their risks.

Drug use, hazing, and other inappropriate behaviors are uncomfortable to confront. Schools that pride themselves on being bullying-free or drug-free might learn some difficult truths about their students’ behavior, and some schools might prefer to simply not know.

However, it’s important to realize that whether you knew it beforehand or not, these issues were already happening, and unlike bomb threats, you’re learning about real threats faced by your school and students.

Implementing accountable reporting on campus

Any tool that allows students to report threats should fulfill a few specific requirements. For example, while students’ identities should be made known to officials, the students’ peers should not know who has reported a threat. If you invest in accountable reporting, you must also commit to following up on each report. You owe it to both the student who reported the threat, and your school as a whole.

To learn more about accountable reporting and how you can implement it at your school or college, get in touch with Circadian Risk today. Circadian Risk will be in booth #412 at IACLEA from June 27 to 30 in Orlando, Florida.

Reach out and book a meeting with us today. Book soon; slots are filling up fast!

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