If students in one New Jersey school district fail to delete all nude images of themselves or other students from their cell phones by Thursday, not only will they be subject to discipline at school, they also may face criminal prosecution for possession and distribution of child pornography, NJ.com reported.
Superintendent of Bridgewater-Raritan schools Cheryl Dyer said some students recently took "selfies" and shared them electronically — and the images were soon on classmates' phones as well as on social media pages.
Dyer sent a letter to parents and guardians of middle school and high school students noting law enforcement is involved in the crackdown "because the photos represent child pornography."
According to Dyer's letter sent Tuesday, families can handle situations at home and make sure photos are deleted through Wednesday, May 28 — an "amnesty" period, she calls it — but starting Thursday students will be "subject to the application of the law" if found possessing or distributing such material.
While minors can be subject to child pornography charges, lawmakers have said they want to distinguish between acts that are intentionally destructive and those that represent adolescent immaturity.
"It's a serious problem, but we don't want to make middle school students criminals just because they've got bad judgment," Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, who sponsored related legislation, told NJ.com earlier this month.
Dyer wrote in her letter — which mimics in many ways what the superintendent from neighboring Bernards schools noted in his letter to parents when nude images were discovered on their students' phones — that the minimum punishment is a five-day suspension. Students also may lose the privilege of going on end-of-school trips, to proms, and possibly graduation ceremonies, Dyer noted.
"I am making a plea to you for your help," Dyer added in her letter. "Please talk to your child about the serious and possibly long term social, emotional, and legal ramifications that can accompany situations like we are dealing with right now."
Bob Lotter, founder of California-based eAgency Mobile Security, noted to MyCentralJersey.com that parents should warn their children about he dangers of sexting, emphasizing that "there are a lot of predatory individuals out there."
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For example, he said, there was an adult man posing as a young student who asked students to send selfies.
He also said that parents should tell their children they will "automatically" have forgiveness if they come forward with inappropriate content.
"Tell them you are not going to take their cell phone away," he said.
Parents need to be especially vigilant with their children who are less than 15 years old, he said.
"Once they're 15, a light seems to come on,'' Lotter said. "It's not an intelligence issue. It's a maturity issue."
One of the consequences of sexual images finding their way online and into the wrong hands has been "sextortion," Lotter said, noting that in such cases explicit photos are ransomed for money or sex.