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Nov 11 2015

Sexting Case Shows Power of School to Suspend

Twenty students at Kings Park High School have been suspended for viewing cellphone video of a sexual encounter between a girl and a boy at a neighboring school, and while their parents are outraged over the punishment, insisting their children didn’t know what they were getting when they received the video, and that they deleted it right away, there really is not much they can do about it.

The school issued what’s know as an “in-school suspension” meaning it was less than 5 days in length. Longer suspensions are called “superintendent’s suspensions” because they require a hearing conducted by the District’s superintendent. These short-term suspensions only entitle a student to a conference before the principal to plead you case. Good luck with that, after all the principal is the one who suspended you in the first place.

Students facing these suspensions are entitled to notice. The notice must contain 3 things:

(1) A description of the event causing the suspension and the date that it took place. The description must have enough detail for you to understand what event they’re talking about.
(2) An explanation of your right to request a conference with the principal.
(3) An explanation of your right to question “complaining witnesses” at the conference. A complaining witness is the person who reported your alleged conduct.

Kings Park High School

Kings Park High School

The notice can even be given AFTER the suspension is declared as long as it comes within 24 hours after the suspension is issued. At the conference, the student or parent can question the witnesses the principal relied upon to give the suspension. While the law does not guarantee the right to counsel for the conference most schools will allow you to bring a lawyer. However, be advised that if you bring a lawyer, then the school will also bring a lawyer making it even harder to get your suspension overturned. The student is also entitled to receive home instruction and get homework sent to him during the suspension. Those are basically all of the student’s rights in these short term suspensions as schools are given a lot of power and control over discipline within their walls. And outside their walls – these exchanges did not all take place during school hours and schools can use their Code of Conduct to enforce what they view as harmful activity that occurs after school hours.

The suspensions show the danger of underage “sexting.” Most of the suspended students didn’t ask for the video to be sent to them and fair number of them deleted the video immediately after viewing it. The principal said that was not enough, if they viewed it they were gone. So to avoid suspension the kids would have had to delete the video without seeing it. These quick-trigger suspensions are just one of the issues with underage sexting. The two boys who made the video have been charged with disseminating indecent material to minors and promoting a sexual performance by a child, both of which are Class-D felonies, and third-degree sexual abuse, which is a misdemeanor. One of the arrested boys was the person in the video the other one was the one who filmed it. These kids are now hit with felony charges and their cases are being brought in adult court not family court.
Similar charges of including charges of disseminating and possessing child pornography have been brought against sexting teens across the country.

So it would be wise for parents of middle school-aged kids and higher to have a serious discussion about sexting and passing photos or videos through their phones. Most of them will think they are just engaging in “kids being kids” but will find out the hard way that is not the case.

5 comments

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  1. Gloria Wolk

    How did they trace the video to kids who received it out of school? Is this a local NSA thing?

    People will open attachments if the sender is someone they know–ubless there is something suspicious in the header. I get messages occasionally from someone whose email was hacked. The subject line says, “From John Doe,” or “Hi.” There’s always a link. I never open.

    But once I had email from an attorney I know–her personal email, not business. Someone obviously hacked into her account or spoofed it because the email itself, the body, had a disgusting picture. Under our current law enforcement, if it was a photo of a child and was discovered on my computer, I could be charged with receiving child pornography.

    BTW, I forwarded this to my 3 adult children who have youngsters who could be vulnerable now or in future years.

  2. Matthew S. Chan

    You give good advice as always but I am pessimistic your message will take hold. Too many parents are too afraid (or too lazy) of being tough parents and hold their kids to high standards. They are more interested in being their children’s best friend and to be liked than to deal with tough issues.

    Unfortunately, sexting is here to stay and the only way the kids will learn is when they (or someone they know) gets hit point blank. Both the boys and girls are guilty of sexting but I believe they engage in it for different reasons.

    Every kid nowadays seem to get a $700 iPhone because it is fashionable. It is almost like an entitlement. These phones give almost too much power and ability that the kids cannot handle responsibility. It would be a crime to give them a simple flip phone or lower-capability phone to use.

    1. Gloria Wolk

      I agree. To add to these concerns I read recently how these smart phones can reveal your location and just about everything in your life. I use what I calll “a stupid phone”–intended for emergencies, not for turning on or off heat or AC or taking video or photos or accessing the ‘net. I prefer a stupid phone that allows me some privacy. But I’ll bet none of my adult children could be convinced to limit their children. Not when every other kid has the Rolls Royce of phones.

      They need to learn to use them wisely. Parents who don’t set limits end up with kids dead from speeding, DUI, etc. How the phone is used needs to be on the list of “setting limits.”

      1. Oscar Michelen

        Parents seem to not know the term “setting limits” In my neighborhood we have girls getting BMWs and Porsches for their Sweet Sixteen – many of them getting cars even before they have a license. Kids in elementary schools have the latest iPhones. They also send kids mixed messages, telling them to behave properly then buying them tickets to a Miley Cyrus concert or allowing them to watch Keeping up With the Kardashians. But hopefully many parents who are still truly parenting will see the article and newspaper accounts about this case and talk to heir kids about appropriate phone behavior.

        1. Gloria Wolk

          My neighbor’s 8 yo got a phone! That shocked me.

          Setting limits is far broader than being smart about phone use. When my son wanted to get his deiver license, I told him it would be expensive for me (I was a single parent, going to grad. school) but I wanted him to have it because he didn’t drink or take drugs, which meant he’d be a safe driver–even if he had to drive someone else’s car. Later, in college, he didn’t have his own car but he told me that whenever the guys went out he volunteered to be the safe driver.

          He also knew how to “save face” when he drove my car, gave someone a lift, and they asked why he was so careful (instead of taking a few risks). He claimed (falsely) that I didn’t have insurance.

          I think one way to get kids to cooperate with behavior that seems to them inappropriate for their age group is to convey trust that they have higher standards. With phone sexting, this would have to be coupled with stories about consequences–such as the horror story that you wrote about. They may think they have privacy. They need to know the facts.

          I’d still like to know how the school discovered the kids who viewed the video off school grounds. Were the sender’s contacts/recipients traced?.

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