Sarasota schools ban app over bullying concerns

A cellphone app gaining popularity in Tampa Bay area schools is also leading to safety concerns.
Yik Yak, the app, has been banned from the Sarasota County School District. It came to the attention of school officials about 10 days ago, raising concerns it could be used as a platform for bullying.
Many parents we spoke to Wednesday had not heard of the app.
Parent Michael Hawthorn, said he doesn't allow his 12-year-old son to bring his cellphone to school. He also doesn't allow him to have accounts on certain social media sites.
"You don't need all that stuff. You got your friends," Hawthorn.
So when we told him about Yik Yak, an app that allows users to post messages anonymously to a virtual message board, he saw the potential problems.
"There's no recourse to the kid or person or adult that's putting it out there," Hawthorn said.
Sarasota County School District had concerns too, including Darrell Reyka, its director of security.
"Obviously it added another layer to bullying or cyber bullying. (It) added another layer to how someone could post a threat against an individual or a school and became very difficult to investigate," Reyka said.
He said most apps identify users by a phone number or username. Yik Yak does not.
Instead of waiting for a serious threat to show up on the site and trying to track down the user, the school system decided to shut it down.
They contacted the developer who put up what is called a "geo-fence" around county schools. If kids try to use the app while on middle or high school property, a message shows up on the screen telling them it is blocked in that area.
But that control only goes so far for so long.
"When they're outside that school boundary, we really have no control," Reyka said.
Yik Yak's co-founders, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, said in an email statement Wednesday that they have geo-fenced 85 percent of primary and secondary school in the U.S.
They began the process in March.
Schools can also request a geo-fence on the app’s website.
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