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Bullying complaints to be accepted via text

Menino, officials herald system, its confidentiality

The Boston public schools, in an effort to crack down on bullying, is launching a new system this school year in which parents and students can report instances of bullying via text message.

When students or parents send a text to 617-765-7125, the automated system will engage the tipsters in a series of questions to gather more detail. The system will then refer the information to a specialist for further investigation.

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The interactive text-messaging system is one of several initiatives Mayor Thomas M. Menino and top school officials revealed at a back-to-school press conference Tuesday morning at the Hurley K-8 School in the South End. Most classes across the city are set to resume Wednesday.

The other initiatives include free breakfasts and lunches for all students regardless of income, and a new website, “Where’s My School Bus,” where parents can track the location of their children’s buses.

Speaking to television cameras, Menino said the city is on track to have its highest enrollment in eight years, with it expected to reach 58,000 students, about 1,000 more than the last school year.

“This speaks volumes to the confidence parents have placed in our school system,” Menino said of the enrollment spike. “Today nearly every one of our schools has a waiting list.”

In preparation for the start of school, the School Department also spent $10 million in building upgrades. Some of those projects included new science labs at Boston Community Leadership Academy in Hyde Park, a new cafeteria floor at Brighton High School, and a new roof for TechBoston Academy in Dorchester.

“We are ready for a strong start and a strong school year,” said interim superintendent John McDonough.

McDonough said Boston is one of the first school districts in the country to launch a text-messaging system to report bullying. Boston is using TipTxt, which is powered by Blackboard Inc.

McDonough stressed the system ensures confidentiality and that “we will respond right away.” The interactive text-messaging system is an expansion of the School Department’s hotline, 617-592-2378. Over the past two years, the hotline has garnered more than 350 calls.

This school year will start with one notable absence: Carol R. Johnson, who retired last month as superintendent after six years on the job.

The School Committee is planning to hold public meetings this fall to solicit opinions from students, parents, teachers, and other interested community members about what qualities they would like to see in a new superintendent.

The search for a new superintendent has been moving slowly as Boston prepares to elect its first new mayor in 20 years. Many candidates have said they believe the new mayor, who will be elected in November, should have final say on the appointment of a new school superintendent.

Michael O’Neill, the School Committee chairman, said at the press conference that the board hopes “to have a superintendent in place early next year.”

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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