Two Long Island high school students were arrested, and up to 20 more suspended, over a sexually explicit video that was shared among the student body. The video depicted a sexual encounter between a male and female student occurring off school grounds in late October; it was recorded and distributed by a male acquaintance. The two arrests were of the male students involved—both were students at Smithtown High School, and numerous classmates found to have the video on their phones have also been suspended.
According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the students arrested, both 14 years old, are being charged with disseminating indecent material to minors and promoting a sexual performance by a child—both class D felonies—as well as sexual abuse in the third degree, which is a misdemeanor. They'll appear in family court at a later date.
Meanwhile, parents of some of the suspended students are protesting that their children are being unfairly punished simply for receiving a text containing explicit material.
"This is ridiculous," Thomas Phalen told CBS New York. "My son was an unwilling participant. He didn’t give anybody permission or authority to send this over to him. Everybody just gets stuff sent to their phones."
In a statement released to Gothamist, Kings Park Central School District Superintendent Timothy Eagen said he believes that all of the suspensions have been appropriate:
"The Kings Park Central School District has conducted and completed a thorough investigation surrounding the alleged sexting incident. The district believes that all student suspensions in relation to this alleged incident have been made in accordance with the district's code of conduct. At this time, we do not anticipate any further suspensions."
This comes on the heels of another sexting scandal in Cañon City, Colorado, where authorities found at least 100 students involved in what the New York Times calls a "sexting ring." In both of these cases, it's unclear what was and was not consensual. It's worth noting that in New York State, minors between ages 13 and 16 can consent to sex with one another or with anyone no more than 4 years older; however, trading sexually explicit images amongst themselves remains a felony.
In many states, including Colorado, teens arrested for possessing or distributing sexual images of their peers or themselves can be made to register publicly as sex offenders, a fact that came under scrutiny earlier this fall when a teenager in North Carolina was charged with five counts of child pornography for possessing images that he and his girlfriend exchanged consensually. New York State passed a law in 2011 that provides a more lenient option: teenagers charged for sexting can complete an eight-hour education course and avoid the sex offender registry.
Some school districts have added units on sexting to their sexual education curricula, in part to make students aware of the legal issues at stake in exchanging sexual material as minors. However, it is unclear whether Kings Park Central School District has a comprehensive sex education program, let alone whether that program addresses sexting. According to the high school's curriculum guide, health class "covers topics related to decision making, human sexuality, home and family life, mental health, effects of smoking and alcoholism, knowledge of nutrition, communicable diseases, and harmful effects of drugs."
The district's public board of education documents says that health education must address HIV/AIDS prevention—something mandated by New York State law—but makes no mention of comprehensive sex education, which is not mandated in the state.. Representatives from the school district did not respond to request for comment on this point.