Detroit Schools Fight Sexting With Plan to Search Student Cell Phones

School officials in a Detroit suburb announced they may search student cell phones and laptops, in an effort to tackle the problem of teenage “sexting.”

Sexting, or sending sexually explicit photos or texts via cell phone, has become a greater problem in recent years, including cases where young students have forwarded nude images to hundreds of classmates.

In Michigan, Troy School District Board of Education officials approved a policy that allows students’ cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices to be searched if there is “reasonable suspicion” of sexting, according to The Detroit News

MORE: Teen Sexting: Felony or Juvenile Mistake?

The rule did not result from any particular incident, but was “just a matter of being proactive,” Rich Machesky, Troy’s assistant superintendent for secondary instruction, told The Detroit News.

Students could refuse a search request from school officials who suspect sexting, in which case the district would contact the child’s parents instead. If students are found violating the policy, they could be punished with a maximum 10-day suspension.

The policy, which goes into effect in September, has drawn fire from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. The ACLU is concerned over how broad the policy is and whether school officials would then hand off students’ phones to the police.

"Usually, this is kids being irresponsible and careless and certainly not criminals, and they shouldn't be treated that way," Michael J. Steinberg, legal director for ACLU Michigan, said to The Detroit News.

According to a 2011 study in the journal Pediatrics, about 10 percent of young Internet users surveyed said they had received, appeared in, or created sexual images in the past year. The study, conducted by researchers at the Crimes against Children Research Center at University of New Hampshire, included 1,560 Internet users, aged 10 to17.

While sexting is not illegal, doing so under the age of 18 can count as child pornography. In Michigan, kids who text can be prosecuted under child pornography laws and can be sentenced with 20 years in prison if convicted. Even having sexually explicit photos on your phone is a four-year felony.

And in a case in Olympia, Wash., a photo of a naked eighth grader went viral, forwarded to hundreds of students, according to The New York Times. The boy who originally received the photo, along with two other students, were charged with the felony of disseminating child pornography.

Furthermore, at least 21 states introduced bills or resolutions aimed at curbing sexting last year, including legislation that passed in states such as New York and Texas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But the concerns about teen sexting may be overblown, according to the studies from the University of New Hampshire. Only 2.5 percent of kids actually appeared in or created sexually explicit images, according to the 2011 Pediatrics study.

“Lots of people may be hearing about these cases discovered by schools and parents because they create a furor, but it still involves a very small minority of youth,” said lead author Kimberly Mitchell, research assistant professor of psychology at the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center, in a statement.

Should schools play a part in reducing teen sexting? What should be done about the issue? Let us know in the comments.

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Kelly Zhou hails from the Bay Area and is currently a student in Los Angeles. She has written on a variety of topics, predominantly focusing on politics and education. Email Kelly | @kelllyzhou |