Several years ago, a teenage girl confided to her mother that other students were harassing her at school.
The girl, however, made her mother promise not to tell anyone. The mother wanted to help but didn't want to break her promise.
She didn't know what to do, but her son, Brigham Young University student Justin Bergener, was inspired to start a business he hopes will help other students - www.schooltipline.com. Students can go to the Web site and make anonymous reports that are then relayed to school officials. So far, six Utah schools and 48 schools in other states are using the Web site to help prevent and address problems ranging from bullying and fights to drugs.
Bergener, 28, who is close to graduating from BYU, said most reports to the Web site are about bullying and harassment, and a smaller number are about theft and drugs. He said anonymity allows students who might otherwise shy away from talking to adults to alert schools to problems.
"There really is this culture and code of silence that's particularly prevalent in middle schools and high schools," Bergener said.
Rosanna Ungerman, principal at Dixon Middle School in Provo, which is using the Web site, said many students don't want to be seen in the office or talking to the principal.
"It allows students to have an outlet and avenue to report things they might otherwise not have reported," Ungerman said.
When a student reports a problem anonymously, the report goes to Ungerman and the school's assistant principals. Often, they respond to the anonymous student online and ask for more details. Sometimes they can persuade the student to come forward and work with them. At the very least, if the student doesn't want to be identified, school officials can question the alleged bully or keep an eye on the situation.
Ungerman said the Web site has already helped administrators prevent several fights. So far this school year, Ungerman said she's received about 20 reports through the Web site. She said she's had only one false report, which the student admitted was phony after being questioned online.
Judy Runolfson, assistant principal at Lehi Junior High in the Alpine School District, which also uses the site, said even some parents have reported incidents anonymously. She said most reports she receives are about bullying or hurt feelings.
"There's a greater awareness that it's a situation that needs to be looked into right away because we know it can lead from something that's not that bad to something much worse," Runolfson said.
Lehi seventh-grader Kimmy Mortenson said she hasn't used the Web site, but thinks it's a good idea.
"I think kids would feel more comfortable about reporting bullies that way," Kimmy said. "They can safely report and not get bullied by the bully."
Lehi parent and PTSA president KaiLynne Osborne said she likes the idea of students being able to tell a school official something is wrong without suffering social consequences.
"If you tell an adult there's a problem and your peers see that, [kids] feel like they're coming across as being a tattletale," Osborne said. "But if they ignore [the problem], peers can see it as a weakness and keep doing it."
In fact, BYU associate professor Betty Ashbaker, is so interested in the concept that she's leading a research team that's watching the program. She said her findings from student focus groups show most kids would rather report problems anonymously online than go through traditional channels at their schools.
"What we've found is kids want their schools to be safe," Ashbaker said. "They've heard about shootings. They've heard about kids trying to bully each other. They don't want that to happen at their schools."
Bergener, whose business plan won several BYU awards, said he's still working to spread the program to more schools. Any student can report a problem, but school officials must sign up their institutions to be able to communicate with students who file reports.
Right now, some schools are participating for free as part of a pilot program, but Bergener is looking into sponsorships, advertising or maybe charging in the future.
"It helps students to reach out for help and help students do the right thing when the right thing isn't popular to do," Bergener said.
The following Utah schools use www.schooltipline
* Dixon Middle School, Provo
* Lehi Junior High, Lehi
* Mount Ogden Middle School, Ogden
* Kanab Middle School, Kanab
* Kanab High School, Kanab
* North Sanpete Middle School, Moroni