Educators in today’s technology-driven classrooms are concerned less about discipline problems of the past and more about a growing problem in many school districts — sexting.
“This is an epidemic and they’re doing it on any device,” said Det. Tracy Perkins, Boone County Cyber Crimes Task Force.
More and more teenagers around Mid-Missouri are using school-issued iPads in the classroom. Many parents and educators said the iPad is a great addition to a student’s education, but some students use the technology for something other than learning.
“They’re sexually graphic conversations and then it usually turns into naked pictures of themselves,” said Perkins.
Perkins said the issue of sexting is more pervasive than schools and parents might think. One study shows 40 percent of teens said they’ve sent a sexually suggestive text. Half of those teens admit to texting or posting a naked “selfie.” Fifteen percent report they didn’t even know the person receiving the picture.
“As a parent, or as a school, if you’re going to give them Internet access, we have a responsibility. And the responsibility is to monitor the traffic and what’s really going on on your Internet,” said Perkins.
It’s a responsibility that Columbia Public Schools takes seriously, but like many school districts, there are issues.
“We’ve had students that have used the iPads inappropriately, but we do have a number of protections in place,” said Michelle Baumstark, Columbia Public School.
CPS gives iPads to 5th graders, and the students will keep them through middle school and get new tablets in high school. Currently, all of Battle High School has them.
CPS students have been caught sending sexually explicit pictures of themselves with the iPads. Officials said police have had to confiscate iPads from students for that reason.
“They could lose the iPad. It could be that certain things are shut down on the iPad. It depends on the level of offense and what has taken place,” said Baumstark.
CPS can turn off the iPad cameras, remove applications or limit functionality, but administrators said many times the sexting happens with the students’ own phone or tablet while on school grounds.
“We have a lot of conversations with our students about how they need to use technology appropriately and what is appropriate,” said Baumstark.
One Mid-Missouri school district gives iPads to all of its 800 students. South Callaway County administrators said they take an aggressive and proactive approach to iPad education and regulation.
“We’ve decided to take a much greater stance. It will be a much bigger part of our school day and it will be every year for every student,” said Kevin Hillman, superintendent for South Callaway County school district.
Hillman said having iPads in the classroom is a balance between giving students enough Internet access for learning and creativity, but not enough to get in trouble.
Hillman said, currently, iPad security is tight, and they teach responsible usage.
“Instead of hiding behind it and have some penalty for something that goes wrong, let’s get out in front of it and get all the information out in front of it for everyone,” said Hillman.
Several states are trying to curb the issue of sexting. As of January, 20 states have passed sexting laws, everything from charging minors with a misdemeanor to requiring them to attend counseling. Missouri has no such law, but a few legislatures are pushing for texting education.
“You send the wrong text message, the wrong picture and once those things go out to the World Wide Web, they’re out there forever and they can come back and get you in trouble later in our life,” said Rep. Clem Smith, Democrat from St. Louis.
House Bill 501, co-sponsored by Rep. Clem Smith from St. Louis, said the bill would add information about online predators and the consequences of inappropriate text messages to sex ed classes.
“This is a problem that’s not going to go away. Children are impulsive and we try to teach them to do the right thing, but in reality, when it’s behind closed doors or they’re trying to seek out some type of attention or whatever might be the cause of it, they’re going to do it,” said Perkins.
Perkins said the sexually explicit pictures sent out can also attract dangerous attention from those wanting to harm the students. Perkins said schools are behind when it comes to regulating iPad usage; she said in many cases, students have too much access.