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What are the Elements of an Effective School Hotline?

By: Cason Liles

(January 21, 2019): The value of a compliance hotline cannot be understated. The usage of an internal whistleblowing system, such as a hotline, has a direct correlation with a lower rate of litigation and has been found to help organizations address concerns and issues within their organization before they become larger and costlier. A school hotline is no different. A school hotline is essentially a reporting platform for students parents, teachers, staff, and other concerned citizens to report improper conduct, ranging from school violence to theft. While there are many reasons to have a school hotline, in order for one to be effective, a school hotline must include the following elements:

Requirement #1: Easy-to-Use and Accessible by Students, Teachers, Staff and Others.

When developing an effective software hotline for schools, there are a number of format, design and accessibility challenges to be addressed. These challenged include:

(1) Ease of Use. From a design standpoint, a school hotline must be intuitive and easy to use. First-time callers or email reporters must be able to feel comfortable with the platform that your school has established for filing a report. Otherwise, if the software platform is poorly designed, students, teachers and other potential reporters will be less likely to use the system.

(2) Readily Accessible. School hotline systems that only permit live reports to be made during working hours just don’t work. Like it or not, reporters are often not in a position to lodge a complaint during the school day. In order for a school hotline to be effective, it needs to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

(3) Multilingual. With respect to the live telephone report line,Compliance Hotline’sschool edition is ready made to be used by students, teachers, staff and others, in the two primary languages used in the United States: English and Spanish.  The vast majority of Americans and individuals living in the United States speak one of both of these two languages. However, Compliance Hotline is ready and able to make any accommodations for to meet any needs you may have.

(4) The Purpose of the School Hotline is Crystal Clear. All too often, a school’s hotline ends up being a blackhole, where anything and everything ends up being reported by students, faculty members and others. While you want to encourage the reporting of bona-fide issues, you need to ensure that your system is not mistaken for a 911 or Emergency Service. If a reporter is facing an immediate threat to his or her safety emergency services must be contacted, NOT the school hotline.

Requirement #2: Dynamic Software.

First and foremost, it is important that the software platform comprising your school hotline is flexible and can be easily modified to meet the specific needs of your educational system.  Many hotline systems used by universities, colleges and secondary schools permit little, if any, customization, but educational systems have a wide range of risk issues and therefore need to have a hotline software platform that can easily be modified to meet each school’s unique needs.  The software platform designed byCompliance Hotlinefor educational facilities has been specifically built with these personalization needs in mind.

Requirement #3: Anonymity.

The hotline system your school chooses to use needs to allow for the submission of information by identifiable reporters, confidential reporters and anonymous reporters.Students, their parents, faculty, staff and other concerned individuals should be able to file reports of misconduct or other wrongdoing anonymously if they choose to do so. While every organization needs to consistently strive to have open lines of communication, it is important to recognize that many individuals may only be willing to provide tips if there is an anonymous platform established for doing so.  In one previous study, it was found that 60% of “internal” fraud tips were reported through an anonymous platform.If a reporter makes an anonymous report to your school hotline, the reporter will be assigned a unique code that he or she can use at a later time to check on the status of the case.  Additionally, a reporter can log into the system using this code to provide additional information that may requested from school authorities to facilitate their investigation of a reporter’s concerns.

Requirement #4: Confidentiality.

When setting up your school hotline, it is essential that your software platform have the capability to note when a reporter has chosen to identify themselves but has asked that their report remain confidential.  It is therefore important that your hotline software platform take into account the differences between an anonymous report and a confidential report. It is important to avoid the risk in conflating anonymity with confidentiality; these are separate but equally important considerations. An employee might give his or her name to demonstrate the information is trustworthy, but still wish to remain anonymous.”[1]Finally, it is essential that your hotline properly advise a confidential reporter of any limitations that must be considered when filing this type of report.  As in the case of an anonymous reporter, the identity of a confidential reporter may become known due to the limited number of individuals that may have access to the information that is being reported. Anonymous reports must also be cautioned that even though they are submitting a report without disclosing their identity, it is always possible that the source of the hotline call may become known during the course of the investigation (typically because only a small group of individuals may have known about the wrongdoing that is being reported).

[1]Weidenfeld, Paul, Ten Critical Elements for a Successful Compliance Hotline Program,BC Magazine (May 6, 2016).

 

Requirement #5: Prohibits Retaliation.

In order for a school hotline to be a successful risk management tool, potential users of the hotline must be assured that an individual filing or disclosing information using the hotline will not be subjected to retaliation.  Your educational institution must emphasize the fact that retaliation against a faculty member or student who submits a report to your hotline is prohibited.  Moreover, the fact that any teacher or school official that retaliates against a hotline reported will be subject to immediate disciplinary action should be publicized.  Unfortunately, one of the main reasons that individuals choose not to report misconduct is because he or she fears retaliation.  The fear of retaliation is a significant deterrent that can (and in many cases will) negatively affect the effectiveness of any reporting process unless there is sufficient trust in your school’s hotline processes. It should be noted that there are numerous Federal and State whistleblower protections that may protect an individual from retaliation. Nevertheless, faculty members, students, and parents still need to be made to feel that the school understands them and will protect them from any form of retaliation.  Protection from retaliation is essential if your school’s hotline is going to be successful.

Requirement #6: Multiple Reporting Avenues.

One of the most important elements of a well-designed school hotline program is that it permits an individual to file a report through one of several reporting avenues. Although referred to as a “hotline,” an effective reporting system is far more than a mere phone report line. If a faculty member, student, or parent feels uncomfortable making a report by telephone, other reporting avenues need to be available. Our proprietary hotline platform, Compliance Hotline – The School Hotline Experts© takes these factors into account. In addition to filing a report by phone, users of our platform can also file a report by e-mail, snail mail or by fax. We have taken the guesswork out of hotlines. We believe that our hotline platform is the easiest, most customizable, and best value for your money.

Requirement #7: Centralized Intake and Incident Reporting System.

As mentioned above, an efficient school hotline requires multiple reporting avenues. But with multiple reporting mechanisms, problems can arise. When tips begin to come in through the phone hotline, by e-mail, through Compliance Hotline’s website, though snail mail or by fax, it is essential that all of these reporting mechanisms be funneled through a single, centralized intake system. This is the only way to guarantee that tips from faculty members, students, and parents do not get lost, mishandled or fail to be reviewed in a timely fashion.

Requirement #8: Managed by a Qualified, Outside Service Provider of Hotline Services.

Proper handling and training are essential parts of an efficient school hotline. When handling reports of misconduct and / or wrongdoing, many issues can arise if your school is attempting to perform school hotline services in-house. Problems you may encounter include:

(1) The Performance of “Hotline Duties” are Almost Always an Ancillary Responsibility Assigned to One or More Staff Members. As such, it is typically placed on the proverbial “back burner” and often ends up understaffed and unresponsive to reporters that may try and lodge a complaint or concern.

(2) Staff Assigned to Handle Internally Monitored Hotlines Rarely Receive Adequate Training. While management and the administrative may believe that the individuals assigned to handle a school’s internal hotline have been properly trained, that is rarely the case. For instance, if a staff or faculty member mishandles an incoming tip, it may be incorrectly or inadequately documented OR the hotline staff person may fail to forward a report or concern to the correct school official for timely review and remedial action. An efficient school hotline needs to be an outside service provider and be fully trained on what questions to ask and how to fully understand a complaint as it comes in.

(3) Poor Hotline Management Practices Can be a Safety Concerns and Lead to Costly Litigation. Public and private education facilities are in dire need of a way to effectively encourage students, faculty and staff to report incidents of fraud and misconduct. Universities, colleges and secondary schools are consistently dealing with innumerable issues that vary from academic dishonesty to cases of abuse and threats to the wellbeing of students and faculty. The best way to combat these issues and preventing them from transforming into anything more severe is to establish a school hotline that faculty, students, and parents can all be confident in using. However, having an inadequate or truly internal school hotline can result in much worse complications that can eventually evolve into costly litigation.

Requirement #9: Consistency in Handling Results.

To build the trust of your faculty members, students, and parents and their trust in the school hotline system you chose to use, you need to have consistent results. Every tip, regardless of its nature, needs to go through the same process and steps to ensure that is it fully and adequately dealt with. Students and other reporters will quickly note how your school administration deals with reported tips. If nothing is done to deal with the misconduct reported, then you will lose the trust of your faculty, students, and parents. As a result, they will be far less likely to use your school’s live hotline or the other reporting avenues you have established.

Requirement #10: Affordable.

Most schools certainly work within a given budget limitation that is beyond their control. Finding the right price balance is an essential part of choosing the right school hotline. While you should always ensure that you are using an efficient school hotline you should weigh the costs and make sure you aren’t cutting other necessary things from your school to allow for a hotline.

 

To implement a low-cost, effective hotline platform, call the folks at Compliance Hotline – the School Hotline Experts.