Kelso schools approve policy cracking down on 'sexting'

Kelso schools approve policy cracking down on 'sexting'

Update 10 p.m. Monday: Under the policy passed Monday night by the Kelso School Board, school officials can seize the cell phone of any student suspected of sending sexually explicit text messages.

They can then check those phones for proof, and the new rules also apply to threatening messages.

Another Washington school district has a similar policy.

Civil libertarians say it constitutes a violation of privacy.

KELSO, Wash. – The Kelso School District plans to vote on a policy Monday night that would allow staff to search student’s cell phones if there’s evidence of threats or sexually explicit messages or pictures.

A similar policy has been used in other school districts and has caused some controversy, but the superintendent of Kelso schools, Glenys Hill, said she hasn’t gotten a single call from a parent on the cell phone issue. And at the last two school board meetings, where the policy has been discussed, the topic hasn’t generated much opposition.

“Parents have been completely silent on the topic,” Hill said. “I can only assume they’re pretty satisfied that this is a policy they’re pretty comfortable with. Parents typically like law and order in their schools.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has come out against the policy, saying it is an invasion of privacy.

It says there is a difference between a backpack and a cell phone. A backpack will have school-related items in it but a cell phone typically has more personal information in it that is nobody else’s business.

The school board’s proposed policy in some ways agrees with that. For example, if Student A sends a nude picture or physical threat to Student B, then a teacher could take both students’ phones to search for the picture or verify the threat. But that’s all.

“We wouldn’t have the right to just surf through Student B’s phone, look at who’s on his contact list, look at what Internet sites Student B’s been going to,” said Hill. “We couldn’t take that phone and peruse Student B’s pictures to see if there’s any pornography on that phone. We could only search that portion of the phone that related to whatever the reason is that prompted the search.”

The U.S. Supreme Court says the district has the right to do that and Hill says that means the district can search the “portion of the phone that relates to (a) reasonable cause.”

If the new policy passes, sexting could get students expelled. Some people, however, think that’s going too far.

“What a person does on their phone is their own business,” said Lee Meirndorf a Kelso parent and grandparent. “If they’re 16 or older, they’re basically an adult, it’s their phone. But they shouldn’t have phones in school. They’re there to go to school.”

Last year, two students at Coweeman Middle School were suspended after they were caught sending explicit photos of themselves to each other.

Right now individual schools decide their own cell phone policy. If the policy is approved, the district-wide policy would likely take effect next school year.