Local

'Sexting' a concern for HISD

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Houston Independent School District says it has to change with the times. That means making rules for a relatively new and upsetting trend among today's teens: sexting.

There used to be a time when if you liked a boy you would pass him a note in class. Now teen flirting has taken a raunchy turn. Totally or partially nude pictures sent from a cell phone, along with an equally raunchy message, called sexting, is happening frequently enough that HISD is doing something about it.

Eddie Rodriguez, 18, carries his cell phone everywhere. He texts, but says he doesn't participate in sexting. Rodriguez says too many teens don't know or care about the consequences.

"People know that, but I think the people who do it, they don't pay attention to that," said Rodriguez.

A Google search of sexting shows it is a popular way of communicating among teenagers. It typically involves sending X-rated pictures along with equally inappropriate sex-oriented text messages, a phenomenon that some teachers say is carried into the classroom.

"A lot of the phones, I'll stop them, but they don't clear their pictures, so their screen savers will have naked pictures on them. It will have really rude, lewd comments, you know things that as an adult, I wouldn't say," said Sandra Cox, a Beaumont teacher.

The combination of teens and phones has always been a relationship many parents have monitored, but the advent of sexting has taken a more dangerous turn for students and their teachers.

"Enough for me to not want to touch another phone. To the point where I will call the principal and say, 'I don't want part of this. I don't want to see something I'm not supposed to. Will you please come and remove the phone?'" said Cox.

At HISD, where and when a student uses a cell phone is determined by that school's principal. Despite those restrictions, it was the principals who asked HISD administration to prohibit sexting by adding it to the code of student conduct.

HISD administration says teachers won't snoop through all student cell phones on campus, but an offending student will suffer consequences.

"This was not an issue five years ago when I started with the district. Nobody had cell phones, we had pagers and pagers were an issue," said Hans Graff, HISD Legal Counsel. "Now we have cell phones and cell phones have cameras so we have different concerns."

HISD is scheduled to vote on the sexting issue this Thursday. The punishment for students caught sexting can range from three days suspension to having criminal charges filed against the offender, depending on the seriousness of the sexting.

Sexting isn't the only concern this year among HISD's principals as a new form of bullying is raising concern. HISD is also voting to ban 'cyber-bullying'. A bullying ban is already in place, but HISD says cyber-bullying is meant to protect victims from being harassed at school as the result of social networking postings outside of the school campus.

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