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LA Unified launching new campaign aimed at sexting education

Mike Szymanski | July 21, 2015



sextingIn a campaign that may be the most ambitious in the state, if not the country, LAUSD is gearing up to launch an anti-sexting campaign for students, teachers and parents.

The launch is scheduled for early in the new school year in all middle and high schools, said Judy Chiasson, the district’s program coordinator for School Operations, Human Relations, Diversity & Equity.

“We monitor what are the emerging trends and what affects the schools, and we determined we need to focus on this issue as a standalone spotlight,” said Chiasson, who noted that the sexting issue has already been a part of the bullying prevention and safety campaign for many years. Now, she said, schools need to focus more attention on the issue.

Before launching the educational campaign to the schools, the program coordinators intend to consult with focus groups of parents, teachers, police and social service experts to make sure the message is appropriate, Chiasson said.

The anti-sexting campaign did not necessarily crop up from the Venice High School incident earlier this year when 15 boys were arrested on suspicion of sexually harassing two girls. Ultimately, prosecutors declined to file charges, and the ACLU suggested education instead of punishment at the school level.

“We have been planning something like this for a long time,” said Chiasson, who is working on the sexting education with Holly Priebe-Diaz, the intervention coordinator who is leading the campaign.

The sexting warnings will not extend to elementary schools, and will not require parental permission. It will all fall under the LAUSD Digital Citizenship and Internet Safety policies.

“We want to show students and families the risks of sexting,” Chiasson said. “Once you send it out, it is out of your control.”

The campaign will warn about sexting risks, including:

  • Public humiliation: The potential of embarrassing pictures being shared with friends, parents and teachers. Youth may believe their friends will keep it confidential, but they don’t.
  • Consequences at school: It could result in violations of a code of conduct for some extracurricular activity such as sports or band and cause the expulsion from the program.
  • Legal consequences: It could result in criminal prosecutions, and hurt career potential, college applications and employment opportunities, Chiasson said. “It’s a matter of teaching responsibility for anyone who has a cellphone,” Chiasson said.

A recent Pew Research Center report found that 92 percent of teens go online daily and three-fourths have access to smartphones. Another study shows that 28 percent of teens surveyed have sent naked pictures of themselves, and 60 percent have been asked for one.

The wish-list for the program coordinators is to have posters, flyers, videos and handouts to explain the issues and what to do, but the program is not specifically funded and is being underwritten by the school police and other departments within LAUSD.

LA Unified Police Chief Steven Zipperman said he wanted to emphasize to students that sending the wrong pictures out could result in violation of obscenity and child pornography laws.

The plan is to educate, not scare, Chiasson explained. “A parent cannot be prosecuted if they receive these pictures, and we want to encourage them to report it to us if they find it,” she said.

Chiasson pointed to the website NetSmartz.org for more education about cellphone education for children of all ages, including videos of real-life stories and educational campaigns.

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