Opinion

Sexting and safety: Schools make right call on cell phone searches | Amy Johnson

When it comes to school administrators being allowed to search student cell phones, I don’t see the problem. Yet, overwhelmingly, parents interviewed about the policy change in the Oak Harbor School District seem to be more worried about someone looking at their child’s phone for inappropriate sexual or illegal material than they are about the safety of students in school.

Consider this parent’s logic: "It's not the school's job to protect students," he said. "It's the parent's job. It's the school's job to educate students." Really? If there were a student with a gun on school premises shooting students, would he expect the school to protect his teens? What if a sex offender was found among the student population, as occurred in Seattle earlier this year? Would it be the schools’ job to protect students then?

I’m not comparing apples to oranges. Cyber bullying, including sexting, has serious consequences. A recent Psychology Today article highlights the dangers of “Sexting and Suicide.” The piece by Dr. Elizabeth Meyer focuses on two girls who committed suicide after nude and “racy” pictures of them were forwarded via cell phone to numerous unintended recipients, resulting in pervasive harassment at school. Eventually, both girls ended their lives.

It’s easy to say the girls should never have taken the pictures, just like it’s easy to say that a drunk driver shouldn’t have been driving after drinking. But students who show evidence of intoxication at school are subject to search. Students who are thought to have weapons are able to have belongings searched with reasonable grounds. Why not students’ phones if schools have reasonable grounds to believe the phones contain sexual pictures or comments meant to harass or intimidate another student? Cyber bullying uses technology as a weapon, and especially when mixed with sexual harassment, it can be just as deadly.

"The general idea is that no one likes the idea of getting their phone taken away, period," one 16-year-old said. Last time I checked, schools are not in the business of making policy to please teens. I may be going out on a limb here, but I bet there are students who don’t like the idea of, say, Algebra or PE or English, but they still have to take those classes.

It only makes sense to support school administrators and educators. They must be able to at least confiscate, if not search, a student’s phone if they have reasonable grounds to believe there is an issue with threatening or harassing another student, or using the phone to violate the law or school policy.

It’s back to school time, so let’s all get educated — and help keep our schools safer for all students.

Resources

The following sites have information on cyber bullying and resources for parents, schools and teens:

http://www.stopycyberbullying.org

http://www.teenangels.com

http://www.athinline.org

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