California Bill Would Introduce Discipline Measures for Sexting


Public school students in California could face expulsion from school for sending text messages found to possibly cause psychological harm to others.

The new bill, recently introduced in Sacramento, was brought forth as a result of the popularity of sexting, or the sharing of explicit pictures and videos through electronic messaging.

One instance of sexting resulted in the suicide of a 15-year-old female student from Saratoga three and a half years ago.  Audrie Pott was sexually assaulted by three teenage boys who then posted photos of the incident later online.

Lawmakers in Sacramento are hoping to put a stop to such incidents by giving power to individual school administrators to suspend or expel any student who engages in “sexting with the purpose of humiliating or harassing a pupil.”  The bill specifically deals with sexting via photos and video, exempting all images that have “serious literary, artistic, educational, political, or scientific value.”

Educators across the state have recently discussed the growing issue of sexting with intent to harm, although some feel expelling these students may not be the best solution, reports Chuck Coppola for NBC Bay Area.

“Suspension and expulsion takes the student out of school, but sometimes that takes them away from the guidance they need to get them to stop,” said Jennifer Thomas, who serves as president for the San Jose Teachers Association.

Democratic Assemblyman Ed Chau introduced SB 2536 this month, which also would require that health classes discuss the dangers of actions related to sexting.

According to Chau, the current language used in California law does not specify whether or not principals have the ability to discipline students for sexting.  The new bill, he said, will clarify the authority held by administrators while at the same time teaching students that they will not be able to get away with such behavior.

Hearings concerning the bill could change what has been referred to as “vague language” included in the legislation.

“It’s a problem that needs to be dealt with, but talking with students about what’s appropriate is more likely to have a more powerful effect,” said Margaret Russell, a Santa Clara University law professor.

Civil libertarian groups have expressed concerns over the broad restrictions made on online speech recently. While American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Kevin Baker said the current bill does not raise any red flags on that front, they are still looking into the potential impact the language could have on the civil rights of students in the state before it takes an official position, writes Jeremy White for The Sacramento Bee.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, a 2012 survey of Texas high school students discovered that over 25% of participants had emailed or texted naked photos of themselves.  Over half of the students said they had been asked to send one.  In 2014, a follow-up survey found a correlation between sexting and sexual behavior, although it did not believe sexting actually caused the sexual behavior.  Instead, the authors suggested sexting to “a new normal part of adolescent sexual development.”