Twenty students at Kings Park High School have been suspended for viewing cellphone video of a sexual encounter between a girl and a boy at a neighboring school, and while their parents are outraged over the punishment, insisting their children didn’t know what they were getting when they received the video, and that they deleted it right away, there really is not much they can do about it.
The school issued what’s know as an “in-school suspension” meaning it was less than 5 days in length. Longer suspensions are called “superintendent’s suspensions” because they require a hearing conducted by the District’s superintendent. These short-term suspensions only entitle a student to a conference before the principal to plead you case. Good luck with that, after all the principal is the one who suspended you in the first place.
Students facing these suspensions are entitled to notice. The notice must contain 3 things:
(1) A description of the event causing the suspension and the date that it took place. The description must have enough detail for you to understand what event they’re talking about.
(2) An explanation of your right to request a conference with the principal.
(3) An explanation of your right to question “complaining witnesses” at the conference. A complaining witness is the person who reported your alleged conduct.
The notice can even be given AFTER the suspension is declared as long as it comes within 24 hours after the suspension is issued. At the conference, the student or parent can question the witnesses the principal relied upon to give the suspension. While the law does not guarantee the right to counsel for the conference most schools will allow you to bring a lawyer. However, be advised that if you bring a lawyer, then the school will also bring a lawyer making it even harder to get your suspension overturned. The student is also entitled to receive home instruction and get homework sent to him during the suspension. Those are basically all of the student’s rights in these short term suspensions as schools are given a lot of power and control over discipline within their walls. And outside their walls – these exchanges did not all take place during school hours and schools can use their Code of Conduct to enforce what they view as harmful activity that occurs after school hours.
The suspensions show the danger of underage “sexting.” Most of the suspended students didn’t ask for the video to be sent to them and fair number of them deleted the video immediately after viewing it. The principal said that was not enough, if they viewed it they were gone. So to avoid suspension the kids would have had to delete the video without seeing it. These quick-trigger suspensions are just one of the issues with underage sexting. The two boys who made the video have been charged with disseminating indecent material to minors and promoting a sexual performance by a child, both of which are Class-D felonies, and third-degree sexual abuse, which is a misdemeanor. One of the arrested boys was the person in the video the other one was the one who filmed it. These kids are now hit with felony charges and their cases are being brought in adult court not family court.
Similar charges of including charges of disseminating and possessing child pornography have been brought against sexting teens across the country.
So it would be wise for parents of middle school-aged kids and higher to have a serious discussion about sexting and passing photos or videos through their phones. Most of them will think they are just engaging in “kids being kids” but will find out the hard way that is not the case.