A new California bill would let schools expel kids for sexting

Students could soon get kicked out of school for sexting.

Assembly Bill 2536 would give schools the right to expel or suspend students for sending nude or sexually explicit photos and images electronically “with the purpose or effect of humiliating or harassing a pupil.” 

The law would apply to students who “sext” in that manner when at school or school-sanctioned events or on the way to or from school or school events. The bill addresses “photographs and visual recordings” sent to the targets of the bullying or to other students or school personnel.

Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) introduced the bill Feb. 19, following at least 20 other states with anti-sexting laws.

This bill is more specific than existing cyberbullying, revenge porn and child pornography laws already on the books in California. 

It gives school districts a way to discipline students who have directed their sexting at classmates or teachers but whose actions don't reach a legal threshold for criminality, Chau said.

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The bill would give administrators the option to expel or suspend students if they're found sexting, Chau said.

The most common form of online sexual harassment is receiving “unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or pictures or having someone post them about or of you,” according to a 2011 survey of middle and high school students from the American Assn. of University Women.

A number of school districts, Los Angeles Unified included, have dealt with the problem by launching aggressive anti-sexting education campaigns, discouraging the practice from the get-go rather than punishing it.

The new bill would also require schools to include discussion of sexting in sexual health classes, teaching about its legal ramifications and potential connections to cyberbullying.

Catherine Hill, vice president for research at the association, said she would prefer an approach to sexting that allows the students to address their actions while remaining on campus and receiving counseling.

Robert Lotter, chief executive of My Mobile Watchdog, a company that allows parents to monitor children's technology, had a similar concern about the bill.

“Expelling a child isn't solving the problem, because the child can continue the activity from home,” he said.

Free speech advocates have been skeptical of efforts to address cyberbullying.

The California bill concerns Sameer Hinduja, a criminal justice professor at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, which keeps track of states with sexting laws.

His qualms stem in part from the law's assumption that administrators can determine the intended purpose of the material students send. The bill, he said, “seems to assume that identifying intent is easy. And it's totally not in these types of situations.

“I would be afraid that we're starting to infringe on civil liberties.”

 Reach Sonali Kohli on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli or by email at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com.

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UPDATES

7:00 p.m.: This article was updated with minor editing.

This article was originally published at 11:17 a.m.

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