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Youngstown Vindicator
What is the sexting law for minors?
By Amanda Tonoli
Mon, March 13, 2017

EAST PALESTINE - After a sexually explicit video was sent to various students’ cellphones at East Palestine High School, high-school administration and police found themselves in the midst of an investigation and a response.

Schools Superintendent Traci Hostetler said she was made aware of the situation Feb. 27 and immediately contacted police.

“The police spent all day [Feb. 28] with my high-school principal conducting an investigation, and we are just supporting them however we can to get to the bottom of situation.”

She added the investigation that involved the collection of 27 student cellphones is a police investigation, not a high-school investigation.

Hostetler said, however, the serious issue is not specific to East Palestine.

“This is not an East Palestine issue; it’s a high-school issue,” she said. “It’s unfortunate this is an issue that high schools across America face today.”

Hostetler said amid the investigation East Palestine school administrators are trying to “express to students how damaging sending those kinds of things can be – to create and disseminate those explicit messages.”

At this point, she said no school punishment will be doled out.

The incident left parents and students wondering what the law says about such situations.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said although he is unable to comment on the situation specifically, “cellphones can be a piece of evidence and are subject to the laws of the state of Ohio and case law promulgated by the state of Ohio.”

According to Ohio Revised Code Section 2981, “Property is subject to forfeiture to the state or a political subdivision under either the criminal or delinquency process [if the] contraband [is] involved in an offense.”

Canfield Police Chief Chuck Colucci said the law is written clearly: “We are able to seize the phones [as evidence], and we do need a warrant to extract information unless we receive consent from the owner.”

He added, “Any time juveniles are sharing explicit videos or pictures, [police] will investigate.”

Tierney said although a number of outcomes can result from the situation dependent upon specifics that occurred and what the investigation reveals, some of those outcomes could include charges of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, a misdemeanor; or pandering, a felony.

Austintown schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca said like many local districts, Austintown is safeguarded in similar situations by its accepted-use policy.

“Strict guidelines with cellphones outline what is allowed,” he said. “Ultimate use of cellphones is up to the teacher.”

The violation of the accepted-use policy or “appropriate use of electronic devices” can result in detentions, suspensions, the collection of the device or “the involvement of local law enforcement.”

“If instructed to turn over a device, students are expected to do so without argument or confrontation,” the handbook states.

Colaluca said inappropriate use can be something as miniscule as a student’s taking a picture of another student who does not agree.

In the case of sexting or “anything in the nature of a child pornography,” however, Colaluca said administrators “report straight to police.”

“Our principals know not to go through cellphones on their own,” he said. “They go right to resource officers.”

Colaluca added the accepted-use policy is the district’s way of meeting students halfway.

“We have to find a way to teach acceptable ways to use cellphones,” he said. “Our philosophy here is we have to understand the way kids have grown up is different than how we did. We were educated differently. Our brains work differently. Kids grow up differently than we did in this digital age. These devices are a part of society, and I would rather help and partner with parents to teach children how to use them properly.”

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