Local authorities and school officials have seen a recent increase in the number of cases of students sending inappropriate photos of themselves to others, according to officials from the Jasper County Juvenile Office and Joplin High School.
A recent case involved a 16-year-old Joplin High School girl who sent nude pictures of herself on a school-issued laptop computer that school officials discovered before notifying police. While no charges were filed against this particular juvenile, that does not mean there were no consequences, said Dana Sanders, chief juvenile officer for Jasper County.
“Each referral is looked at on a case-by-case basis,” Sanders said.
Joplin police Cpl. Chuck Niess said the incident took place in February and was reported on March 8. Niess said the girl, who is a student at the Joplin High School ninth- and 10th-grade Memorial campus, admitted to an instructor at the school that she had sent nude photos of herself using a school-issued laptop computer to a male. Niess said police have not yet located the male, but that he is not a fellow student.
Niess said he does not believe the girl intended to distribute the photos to anyone except the one person. Sanders said she did not know whether the recipient was another juvenile or an adult, which could affect the type of consequences the student and recipient could face.
Based on state law, a juvenile sending photos to another juvenile may or may not be a violation of law. Sanders said that if a juvenile sent the photos to an adult, that adult could be deemed in possession of child pornography. Possible consequences for juveniles in this situation might include going to court, community service, letters of apology, researching a topic, informal probation and counseling.
“I don’t want to imprint that juveniles can send other juveniles photos and they won’t get in trouble,” Sanders said.
With today’s availability of communication technology, said JHS Principal Kerry Sachetta, school officials have seen a increase in the number of incidents similar to this one. But he said he could not give an estimate on the number of similar incidents this year.
The technology available to Joplin High School students includes district-provided laptops for every student.
“The school looks at all of these incidents the same way, whether they are on cellphones or laptops,” Sachetta said.
Students at the high school are required to sign an agreement at the beginning of the year outlining appropriate use of the laptops.
While most of these incidents come to light through word of mouth, some are discovered or confirmed by technical staff in the school district’s central office. Those employees look for unusual traffic on the server and computers. In this case, Sachetta said he found out about the material and questioned the student, who admitted having the material on her computer. The district then notified the authorities.
With more technology in the classroom and teachers using the laptops every day as part of the curriculum, Sachetta said, school disciplinary action for students violating the rules includes taking the laptop away or issuing the computer on a day-to-day basis to the student instead of allowing it to be taken home.
“It depends on situation,” he said. “If it’s pornographic or something really bad, (we could) take it away.”
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT will continue to educate students about using the technology appropriately, said Joplin High School Principal Kerry Sachetta.