High School ‘Sexting’ Scandal Widespread, Possible Felony Charges for CO Teens, Football Team Forfeits Final Game

A massive sexting scandal involving hundreds of students unfolded this week in a Colorado high school where students, possibly as young as eighth grade, allegedly messaged nude photos of themselves and others. The teens were allegedly sharing and collecting them like baseball trading cards. The teens’ actions could end with some students being charged with felony child pornography.

Canon High School officials uncovered what appears to be a sexting scheme and cover up when an anonymous student tipped them off Monday to what was going on under their noses. Canon City police since took over the investigation to determine if any adults were involved and if any students were coerced into texting explicit photographs.

Some students sharing naked selfies and images of others may be as young as eighth grade, CBS News reported. So far, the investigation found an equal number of boys and girls sexting images of themselves and others on their cell phones.

On Thursday night, district officials called an emergency meeting at the high school located in a Colorado Springs suburb. Parents learned disturbing details including that under-aged students could be charged with Class 3 felonies for sexting. Fremont District Attorney Thom Ledoux emphasized the importance that parents understand “the mere possession of these materials does constitute an ongoing crime.”

Students concealed their activities using new technology. Locally, KOAA 5 reported “Photo Vault” as the primary phone app students used to mask the amassed nude photo collections. Canon City High School Principal Brett Meuli told CBS News: “It was flooring to us how on how many photos we are finding.”

Previously, Welsh told KOAA 5: “It got to the point of maybe a little bit of a contest to see who could collect the most.”

On Thursday, sophomore Jacine Valdez told KOAA 5: “Last year I did bring up something on the people that did start it and they dropped it. This has been going on for several years.” Although the superintendent wouldn’t comment on that claim, he noted at the emergency meeting that sexting was a schoolwide problem, adding: “It’s going on everywhere, my suspicion is with modern technology.”

Initially, all scrutiny centered on the football team, the first exposed in the purported sexting operation. School district officials implicated more than half of the players as involved. Welsh decided that Canon City High would forfeit their final football game of the season Saturday, a consequence for the teens’ actions.

How widespread the sexting scandal may be continues to unfold. Welsh called the behavior of students taking nude photos, sharing and collecting them like trading cards “not representative of what we teach our kids.”

A 2012 study examined sexting behaviors in seven Southeast Texas high schools. Students answered anonymous surveys and the results showed 28 percent of teens sent a naked picture of themselves through text messaging or email, 31 percent reported asking someone to sext them, and 57 percent were asked to send explicit images. A 2014Pediatrics report based on that study found, for some teenagers, sexting preceded having sex. The Washington Post likened sexting to the new normal, calling it today’s “first base” and not necessarily indicative of only teens with at-risk behavior.

While some believe sexting is part of growing up in the 21st Century, it often plays a key role in teacher-student sexual misconduct cases, which are rampant nationwide. Breitbart Texas covers educator-student improper relationships and has cited expert Terry Abbott, a former chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Education, who blames these same social media tools (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and text messaging) for creating “an open gateway” to the explosion of classroom sexual predators under the radar from parents and principals.

Canon City authorities plan to investigate each student on a case-by-case basis to make sure charges are filed appropriately. Ledoux hopes that hundreds of students will not face federal charges. “I’m confident in the system and the people that are involved in the system that we can achieve the right outcome in these cases somewhat regardless of what the laws are.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.