Archive for Sunday, December 5, 2010

Student ‘sexting’ consequences in focus

December 5, 2010


Lawrence school board members are embracing a statewide effort to develop an appropriate punishment for students who engage in “sexting.”

While members say such activity is prohibited and continues to have no place in or around schools, the state’s criminal consequences — starting at more than two years in prison, up to $300,000 in fines and a lifetime of registering as a sex offender — could use another look.

“This would allow people to have an opportunity — especially when they’re teenagers — to make a mistake, yet not have it influence their whole life,” said Marlene Merrill, a board member who retired two years ago after 35 years in education. “There should be consequences. Nobody’s saying there shouldn’t be consequences. But when your name is put on the sexual predator list, that has serious lifetime consequences.”

Merrill served on the Kansas Association of School Boards committee that developed the initiative, one of five resolutions up for approval this weekend during the organization’s statewide convention in Wichita. The organization will use such findings to lobby legislators during the upcoming session, which begins in January.

Merrill brought up the sexting topic recently with members of the Lawrence school board after outlining a fairly typical lineup of legislative priorities regarding school financing, programming, early-childhood education and federal achievement standards.

Sexting, she said, is becoming more of an issue and is certain to remain an issue in the years ahead, as the use of mobile phones, laptop computers and other electronic devices are employed to access various forms of social media. Students — either in school or out of school — may send inappropriate images or write improper messages to boyfriends, girlfriends or others.

Potential for prosecution

Sending or possessing nude images of people under the age of 18 can, in the eyes of the law, be prosecuted as sexual exploitation of a child.

“The problem is that if you are 10 or 12 and you do something like this that is inappropriate, the only recourse in our current system is to treat that person like a sex offender,” Merrill said.

School employees are required to report such instances to authorities if they come across such images, said Charles Branson, Douglas County district attorney.

Branson’s office has prosecuted a number of cases regarding sexting, including some that ended in convictions carrying mandatory registration as sex offenders. Such cases arise every few months, he said.

“We’ve done everything from having teens go through counseling programs to make them aware of the seriousness and the consequences of their actions — both criminal and social — to charging crimes in situations where we believe it warranted some kind of criminal history,” he said. “It’s a very big deal.”

Education is key, Branson said: Teens need to understand the ramifications of having a picture of themselves, or possessing a picture of somebody else, that they wouldn’t want anyone else to see.

He would welcome legislators studying the issue and considering whether to make changes to laws, which were imposed to stop child pornographers.

‘You can easily overreact’

“The digital age and social media have opened up a new can of worms for everybody to figure out how to apply our laws that weren’t written with these things in mind,” Branson said. “We have to use a great amount of discretion in these cases, to make sure our actions meet with the criminal conduct. You can easily overreact to the conduct.”

Mark Bradford, vice president of the Lawrence school board, suggests that any legislative review also include a look at the use of social media for bullying and other inappropriate behaviors. But he acknowledges that sexting activities should be addressed, even though he considers such behaviors more of a parental issue than a school responsibility.

“Perhaps Brett Favre could come in and give us tips on what to do and what not to do,” Bradford said, referring to the NFL quarterback caught up in a league investigation over images he allegedly sent to a former team employee.


T_Time 4 years, 10 months ago

Bradford actually said that? Images allegedly sent. He is right on one point, it is a parental issue, and schools should enforce laws already in place.

VTHawk 4 years, 10 months ago

The problem is that the law treats any "sexting" as distribution of child pornography, so a text sent to a gf/bf could land someone in jail and ruin his/her life.

Steve Jacob 4 years, 10 months ago

My only issue is it has to be harder to guess if the person your "sexting" is underage.

jayhawk166 4 years, 10 months ago

how is what the students do outside of school any of the school boards buisness this is something that is a parents job not the school board

snoozey 4 years, 10 months ago

Let's concentrate on academic achievement at school and leave parenting to parents. It's a pretty straightforward concept for most of us.

Flap Doodle 4 years, 10 months ago

Could LJW get another graphic to put on stories about the school board? I've seen the current one many more times than I'd ever have wanted.

Clevercowgirl 4 years, 10 months ago

It's a schizophrenic portrait of the school board.....oh wait! Just kidding!

equalaccessprivacy 4 years, 10 months ago

Branson doesn't have any trouble subscribing to twisted southern-justice notions about guilt and blame when its the felonious powers-that-be at KU or in Douglas County in general who are the real criminals just trying to pass the buck and smear people of good faith.

Tampered evidence all the way, Branson, and afterward just keep the whole sordid story in the dark so the evil perps may continue to represent themselves as victims--just part of the corrupt conflict-of-interest and judicial bias that decent people get to deal with among the gothic hillbillies of Lawrence and Douglas County. Neanderthal social values all the way--it's just and understood part of life in the "heartland" of KS.

irvan moore 4 years, 10 months ago

i find it interesting that the school board now thinks making or changeing laws is part of their job.

pace 4 years, 10 months ago

I do think handling modern media challenges and dangers should be part of the school curriculum, Sexual conduct , education, personal conduct is first and most importantly the parents job, but the school should not shirk its role in education about electronic media, the Internet, computers, all should also be addressed at home and also at school.

missmagoo 4 years, 10 months ago

I fail to see how this is a controllable issue for schools, or even a criminal act. I suppose if a student takes a nude pic on school grounds then sends it on school grounds, okay.. maybe. But seriously, 10 year olds as sex offenders? Puuuuuhhhhlease.

Let's concentrate on keeping cell phones off during school hours and not worry about what's on them.. that's for the PARENTS to do.

creamygnome 4 years, 10 months ago

The proper punishment is sending nude pictures of the school board to the students "sexting".

Hoots 4 years, 10 months ago

Bottom line is that Facebook, texting, and cell phones are causing huge problems in schools today. Ask anyone in education how much this impacts the classroom. Do you want your kids to get an education or do you want them to have access to Facebook and their phone all day while they are supposed to get an education?

creamygnome 4 years, 10 months ago

Just have all the kids "check in" their cells as they walk into class. Then they check them back out as class is ending. Sure, it gives teachers one more thing to deal with, but when I was in school they wouldn't allow us to have portable cd players because they were too distracting. Even in study hall! Ridiculous. Anyway, so they banned them. Just ban cell phones in class rooms. How hard is that? Beyond that, it's not the school's responsibility to be dealing with the material children are accessing on cell phones. That's up to parents.

creamygnome 4 years, 10 months ago

They don't seem to be enforcing the ban very well then.

eric1889 4 years, 10 months ago

Here is another problem that society is placing the burden on the schools. Where are parents these days? They are not afraid to sue or complain to school boards, but they expect schools to raise and punish their children for them.

Jacks_Smirking_Revenge 4 years, 10 months ago

If the kid is not to have a phone at school, and he has one, then he is punishable. However, how does the educator know what content is on the phone? Are these kids caught in the act or does the administration get a pass to view the contents of the phone once it is confiscated? I do find it hard to believe that teens are less savvy about sneaking around now then when I went to school.

Of course, back then, we had to sneak off to a dark corner of the school and make out the old fashioned way...

maxcrabb 4 years, 10 months ago

I think a lot of people miss the point that young teenagers (13-17 year olds) are being listed as sexual offenders for sexting. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but it has happened. That is a life long consequence for a person still in highschool. Students are being placed on the same list as sexual predators and rapists. It's a parenting/education/legislative issue. Wake up!

denak 4 years, 10 months ago

This just reeks of overkill.

In the state of Ks, if you are over the age of 16, you can consent to sex.

If your significant other is 18 and you are 17, you are covered by the Romeo and Juliette. clause.

However, if you take a nude photo of your girlfriend, the one you can legally have sex with, and send it, you could end up on the sexual predator list???

Does that seem right to anyone???

Yes, there should be ramifications for adults who prey on children who are young but how many of these cases are adults sexting with children and not just teenage kids sexting with each other.

Personally, if my son got caught sexting with someone, I wouldn't get bent out of shape with him being suspended or even made to go through a "education" class but a 2 year prison sentence( to start with) and a 300,000 fine is just ridiculous.

How does this benefit society????


Take_a_letter_Maria 4 years, 10 months ago

I've had one too many parent get on my ass because I've taken jr's phone away from him in class and told him he could get it back from the office after school. I'm not going to put myself, or the office staff, through that any more. If you're one of those who give the kid double the punishment because they were acting up in school, like my parents did when I was growing up, good for you, but the reality is that more and more parents are blaming the school and backing their kids blindly these days so we begin to wonder why we even bother trying to discipline in the classroom.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

If there's a school policy that cell phones aren't allowed in classrooms, then you should enforce that policy and get support from the administration when dealing with upset parents.

Amy Heeter 4 years, 10 months ago

The school board has no right or reason to be involved in free speech issues. When the D.A. stops making pleas with drunk people who kill with cars I might listen to what he has to say about this. Until then it is a parenting issue and shaould be handled at home.

oldbaldguy 4 years, 10 months ago

Our legislature is all too willing to enact laws that make pariahs out of children. If you want an education, sit in on the juvenile docket in any county in Kansas.

unite2revolt 4 years, 10 months ago

@ oldbaldguy : I sat in on a few both in Douglas Co and Shawnee Co. It really makes you wonder about what kids have to do to get a fair shake in life.

Jeff Cuttell 4 years, 10 months ago

What about scrambling the air waves in schools? That would make it impossible to get in trouble and then the teachers wouldn't have to worry about it or cheating with them.

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