Police recently closed a two-year investigation into sexting between students at Harwood Union High School. But Washington West Supervisory Union Superintendent Brigid Scheffert says the response can't end there.
"Across Vermont we have a lot of really, really good students making really stupid decisions, whether they're naive, impulsive," Scheffert said.
Harwood's case involved 50 students. The superintendent says kids traded and sold racy cellphone photos like baseball cards.
Nationally, it's impossible to tell how common of a problem sexting is. It's estimated that 1-20 percent of the teen population engages in the practice.
A 2009 Vermont law protects consensual messages between students from leading to child pornography charges, but once the pictures spread to friends or others, sexters can face felonies.
"The degree that they know it's inappropriate, they have no idea the magnitude of the charges and the kinds of things that can carry with them for the rest of their life," Scheffert said.
Administrators say an education campaign is the smart approach as ever-evolving technology continues to make it easier for students to make the wrong decision.
"The same person that would be absolutely mortified walking into class in their underwear won't necessarily think about the permanency of digital photo, and the possible transmission of that down the road," said Kreig Pinkham of Washington County Youth Service.
Sexting's perpetrators or victims can seek counseling services at Washington County Youth Service. Executive Kreig Pinkham says in most cases, it's important that kids face legal consequences but not a permanent record.
"Adolescence is about taking risks. It's about making mistakes. The community response always needs to be how we can help them move through that in a healthy and responsible way," Pinkham said.
Pinkham says cultures shift every four years dealing with teens. By keeping up with the latest trends and informing kids of when they're exposed, communities can avoid letting students down.
It's unclear how many of the kids involved in the sexting ring will face discipline. The Community Justice Center will handle their cases. The perpetrators and victims will work together on a punishment, and assuming guidelines are followed, none of the students will end up with a permanent record.
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