Police Charge Pinelands Regional Seventh-Grader After Sexting Episode

Explicit Video Posted on Social Media Was of 12-Year-Old Girl
By RICK MELLERUP | Jun 05, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Little Egg Harbor — A seventh-grade boy at Pinelands Regional Junior High School was reportedly charged by police last week after posting an explicit video of a 12-year-old girl on social media. A vice principal for the seventh grade notified Pinelands Regional School District Superintendent of Schools Melissa McCooley after another student reported the presence of the video. The police were contacted, and charges were reportedly filed against the youth.

McCooley posted a letter on the district Facebook page last Thursday evening informing parents of the situation and asking them to get involved.

“I am seeking your assistance to speak with your children due to the fact that multiple students have elected to repost this video,” she wrote. “Please understand that the student depicted in the video is 12 years old, therefore, this is classified as child pornography. Those reposting a video such as this could be subject to criminal charges as well.”

McCooley’s warning to parents seems to have been the responsible thing to do. But the decision to involve the police has split the community, with some parents saying on social media sites and in conversations around town that turning a 12-year-old in to police was overreacting, while others thought it was exactly the right thing to do given the seriousness of the situation.

The sexting phenomenon certainly isn’t limited to Pinelands Regional, and it certainly isn’t a new problem. Sexting – the sharing of sexually explicit images and videos via the internet or electronic devices such as smartphones – among teens is a big problem, as a February 2018 report in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics showed. A study of over 110,000 teens worldwide showed that one in seven reported they are sending such images while one in four admitted to receiving them. And as far back as 2009, Education Week ran an article titled “Administrators Confront Student ‘Sexting.’”

“Cellphone-savvy students have created instructional and disciplinary challenges for educators for years,” reads the article’s lede. “But the recent emergence of ‘sexting’ by adolescents over their mobile phones caught many school administrators off guard, and the practice is prompting efforts around the country to craft policy responses.”

McCooley has said Pinelands students have been educated in both health and social studies classes about the dangers and possible legal implications of sexting. Their parents, too, have had the opportunity to learn about the problem of sexting, in assemblies conducted in conjunction with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. And the superintendent, who serves in a similar capacity at the Little Egg Harbor School District through a shared-service agreement, hasn’t limited education to junior high and high school students. In April 2018, former Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato conducted such a program at the Little Egg Harbor School District’s Frog Pond Elementary School. He warned parents that the consequences of sexting could be devastating, even for minors, saying kids could be sent to local or state juvenile facilities and be placed on up to three years of probation.

Still, it isn’t surprising that McCooley told another media outlet similar incidents have occurred at least once a month in the district, mainly at the high school level.

McCooley told The SandPaper that she hadn’t involved the police in previous situations. When asked why, she said there are different degrees of sexting. When asked if the district had a policy regarding sexting, she said it did, that school resource officers and members of the administration would meet to agree on a preferred course of action in each individual case.

— Rick Mellerup


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