What started as an isolated “sexting” incident has spread across two school districts in greater Smithtown and led to two arrests and more than 20 suspensions, school officials said Tuesday.
It all started in late October, when two 14-year-old boys from an unspecified high school in Smithtown used a cell phone to record a sexual encounter with a female acquaintance off school grounds, the Suffolk County Police Department said in a statement. That explicit content was later distributed electronically to others in an act referred to as sexting to students at Kings Park High School, which led to widespread suspensions there, Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said in a statement.
Police did not specify the age of the female or where she attends school, or whether the sexual act was consensual or forced.
Both boys were arrested and charged with two felonies — disseminating indecent material to minors and promoting a sexual performance by a child — and a sexual abuse misdemeanor and were scheduled to appear in family court on a later date, police said. Cops did not release the names of the students because they are minors.
In a statement, Smithtown Schools Superintendent James Grossane confirmed the two boys were high school students within the district, but did not specify whether they attended Smithtown High School East or Smithtown High School West. He said district disciplinary action would be determined pending the outcome of an investigation, and the district was working with the SCPD to find a resolution.
“We are greatly disturbed by these allegations and we express our heartfelt concern to the alleged victim and their family,” Grossane said in a statement, referring to the girl whose image was captured and disseminated. “This is a very serious matter and the district is currently conducting an internal investigation to further explore this incident. We encourage parents to take this opportunity to speak with their children about the long-term negative consequences that the inappropriate use of social media may have on their lives and for parents to monitor their child’s online and cell phone use to the best of their ability.”
Policing the digital realm was not a new topic for the Kings Park schools superintendent. The sexting incident occurred about two months after Eagen hosted an online safety and cyber bullying public forum at Kings Park High School.
“Yes, we do have a serious problem,” Eagen said in a notice posted on the Kings Park Central School District’s website. “However, from my perspective it is that our young people are carrying mini-computers in their back pockets that are both unfiltered and largely unsupervised. This is a shared problem, and more than just an issue of one student, one decision, or one suspension”
In the notice posted online, Eagen referred to modern youth as the “iGeneration,” that has grown up in an era of immediate technological stimulation via smartphones and tablets. He notified parents that students had access to various smartphone applications at their fingertips solely designed for the purpose of concealing pictures and videos, and he suggested changes be made inside the home.
“Some students have shared with us that they sleep with their phone under their pillow,” he said. “This is dangerous and very problematic. The best advice that I was given a few years ago was to create a family electronic device charging station. At night before, bed, all devices go to the family charging station. Something to consider.”
Eagen said his goal over the coming months was to work with the district’s principals and parents to urge young people “to be good citizens and report problematic behavior to an adult.”