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New anonymous reporting system for bullying in Hamilton County Schools

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

The Ooltewah assault case is putting a spotlight on system-wide bullying, hazing and intimidation policies and procedures.

Superintendent Rick Smith says 80 percent of Hamilton County schools have been fully trained in a bullying prevention program, including Ooltewah High School.
    
But for many of the students and staff, that training is less than half a day at school.
    
The school board is now going to take a look at changing their policies while some local groups say that's long overdue.

"Obviously, if this stuff is going on and that's what they're doing, they need an overhaul," said Elizabeth Crews, Executive Director of Unifi-Ed.

Crews says their local education advocacy group started researching Hamilton County bullying policies in December --- after a group of students said it was their biggest concern at school.
    
Crews says out of the 13 provisions in the state-mandated bullying policy, Hamilton County schools come up short.

"They found that they were missing or incomplete in five of those points," Crews said.

One of those points, is not having an anonymous notification system to report bullying.
    
That's something the school district says its been working on, and should be available to students, teachers, and parents later this week.
    
Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade says while the timing of the new system may seem like it's in response to the Ooltewah assault, the school has been working on the new messenger system since November.

McDade says it will replace the current "Connect-Ed" system on the school district's website. Anonymous users can fill out a form online, and it will go directly to the school district.

"I feel like I still have a lot of questions about what that looks like," Crews said, "And you know, if they got any student input about how it was created, and what they're going to do to make sure students know about it."

Superintendent Rick Smith says he's handed over several years of data to help determine if there's a pattern, or culture, of bullying and violence in the school system.
    
if so, Smith says he's not opposed to "starting over" at Ooltewah High School.

On Thursday, the school board will look at changing up to ten school policies and better define bullying, hazing, and intimidation.
    
That's also when the anonymous reporting system will be unveiled for the first time.

The meeting is at 5 p.m. and will be open for public comment.

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