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Chambersburg area schools open sexting seminar series

December 18, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- The Chambersburg Area School District opened a series of sexting seminars Friday afternoon with a live broadcast to its senior high school students.

Sexting, the act of sending or receiving nude or semi-nude photos on electronic devices, became a problem for the school district in September when a sexting ring was uncovered when it nearly caused a fight between high school students.

The district has taken a proactive approach to dealing with sexting that is centered on education, said Brett Hill, director of district security. Plans include seminars for parents, students at Chambersburg Area Middle School and Faust Junior High School, and even the elementary schools.

"I don't want a student to come to me and say 'I didn't know,'" Hill said.

Teaching students the consequences of sexting will be the district's best chance of stalling the problem in its hallways, said Hill, a retired police trooper.

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While most sexting is done off school property, Hill said history has shown the issue will inevitably make its way into the school and disrupt education.

In September, about 30 photos of girls "in varying stages of undress" circulated through Chambersburg Area Senior High School via cell phones and computers, the Chambersburg Police Department has said.

While no students were charged in the incident, Assistant District Attorney Bret Beynon said at the time the closest-fitting charge to the incident was that of possessing and distributing child pornography.

Hill and Assistant Principal Brian Hostetler created a televised program aimed at educating students on the real consequences of sexting.

Broadcast into classrooms Friday afternoon, the program combined basic information about sexting with advertising campaigns by the Ad Council and MTV, as well as news broadcasts telling the stories of sexting's victims.

As the program pointed out, sexting has landed some students in America with a felony charge of child pornography, requiring them to register as sex offenders, pay fines and forgo future employment and college education plans.

"Our biggest problem is that the students don't realize that sexting is not just wrong but illegal," Hostetler said.

"We wanted to create something that would keep their attention," Hill said.

At the end of the broadcast, students were able to ask questions of Hill and Hostetler by e-mail, which were answered live via the district's School Wide Effective Behavior Support broadcast program.

Approximately 25 questions ranging from the details of sexting to exactly what could happen to students if they were caught sexting, were asked.

Many students were trying to find ways around the law and asked questions Friday such as "If I am 18 (years old) and I sent a sext to someone, will I get in trouble? and "If I send a sext outside of school, can I still get in trouble?" Hill said.

Developmentally, many teenagers are still learning to rationalize and often act out of desire rather than reason, Hostetler said. Those students are still looking for a way to participate in the act without bearing the consequences, he said.

Unfortunately, for students looking to skirt the rules, the district has a policy for appropriate cell phone use and will soon have a clause in that policy dealing directly with sexting, Hill said.

In Pennsylvania, the law is much more harsh, he said.

However, the school district realizes that while it is not possible to stop all sexting, it is possible to teach every student the ramifications of the act, he said.

The district hopes that through education, even of those as young as elementary age, it can prevent students from going down sexting's dangerous path.

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