A school district in Michigan is implementing a new policy that allows officials to inspect students’ cellphones and other electronic devices if they receive a complaint of “sexting,” whether it was committed on or off campus.

(Pawel Kopczynsk/REUTERS)

Just how prevalent sexting is among young people remains unclear. Various studies published in recent years have reached widely differing conclusions: Some estimated that 1 percent of children ages 17 and younger have texted explicitly pornographic images, while others put the number at 20 percent or even higher. A 2011 Pew study reported that 4 percent of children ages 12 to 17 had sent “sexts” and that 15 percent had received them. One new study conducted at seven high schools in Texas found that one in four teens had sent a nude picture of themselves by e-mail or text message.

In Troy, the new sexting ban prohibits “sending, sharing, viewing or merely possessing sexually explicit digital pictures, messages, text messages, emails or other material of a sexual nature in electronic form or other form on a computer, cell phone or other electronic device . . . whether or not state and/or federal child pornography law has been violated.”

If school officials find a sext on a student’s electronic device, they will turn the device over to a local prosecutor, who will decide whether to pursue the case.

The Detroit News reported that the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has concerns about aspects of the policy, including the issue of whether school officials should give police a student’s cellphone and the definition of what constitutes sexting.

“Usually, this is kids being irresponsible and careless and certainly not criminals, and they shouldn’t be treated that way,” Michael J. Steinberg, legal director for ACLU Michigan, was quoted as saying.


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