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Bernards Students Warned About Explicit Cellphone Photos

Students in the Bernards Township School District have been warned that if explicit pictures are found on their cellphones starting today, they could face suspension and criminal charges.

Sign at the William Annin Middle School in Bernards
Sign at the William Annin Middle School in Bernards (Bernards Township School District)

News 12 New Jersey reports Superintendent Nick Markarian sent that message to parents after an incident at the William Annin Middle School in which nude pictures were found on the cellphones belonging to several students.

Police and school officials agreed that the situation would be handled between the families involved without any penalty.

Markarian warned that starting Monday, any student whose cellphone was found with inappropriate content would not be tolerated.  He also pointed out that content on the internet often remains “forever.”

Students would face a 5-day suspension from school and possible criminal charges.

The superintendent suggested that parents review their child’s cellphone and social media accounts for similar content.

Full text of Superintendent Makarian’s letter to parents:

Dear Parent/Guardian,

It has come to my attention that this week some of the students in our district have knowingly possessed and brought to school nude photos of classmates. The digital photos have been found on students’ cell phones. Students took photos of themselves and shared them electronically.

As you can imagine the situation has created a host of unfortunate consequences for everyone involved. The educational environment has been disrupted. Students are dealing with the consequences of their actions. Parents, administrators, and counselors are all working overtime trying to take corrective action and make the most of a bad situation. Local law enforcement is involved because the photos represent child pornography.

I have been in communication with Chief Brian Bobowicz of the Bernards Township Police Department, who has in turn reviewed our situation with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. An arrangement has been made at this time to allow the school and local police department to collaborate and work with the students and families involved to handle the situation without the filing of any criminal charges. Please be advised that this arrangement for amnesty is short term through Sunday, May 11, 2014. Effective Monday, May 12, 2014 any students involved in the behaviors described above will be subject to the application of the law.

The school district will be working to counsel and if appropriate, discipline the students who have been involved in this situation. Our goal is that this sort of behavior never occurs in our school district. In an effort to make it clear how serious the creation, possession and distribution of this sort of content is, I am directing all of the principals to institute a minimum disciplinary consequences of a 5-day suspension for such infractions. The minimum consequence will be effective beginning Monday, May 12, 2014 for ANY student who knowingly possesses child pornography at school or who creates and/or distributes such content in a way that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students.

I am making a plea to you for your help. Please talk to your child about the serious and possibly long term social, emotional, and legal ramifications that can accompany situations like we are dealing with right now. Reinforce with your child that once they distribute digital content and it gets to the World Wide Web it is impossible to eradicate. Please tell your child that under no circumstances should they be taking nude photos of themselves. Please tell your child that if someone asks them to create such a photo they should say no and report the person to a trusted adult. Please tell your child if they receive inappropriate photos they should immediately delete the photo or immediately go to the police station (or school office if at school) with their phone – they should NOT distribute the photo.

Finally, please review with your child all of the digital photos they may have posted or saved on their cell phone, their social media accounts or on other electronic hardware or software. DELETE ALL INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT. In order to help you with this effort, I have attached on the following two pages a letter I distributed last spring. I am extremely thankful for your support in helping us to resolve this immediate situation and in educating your child about this crucial topic.

Sincerely,

Nick Markarian

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