Authorities investigating 'sexting' case at Wheaton middle school

Updated 6/13/2014 6:29 PM
  • The entry "sexting," photographed in New York, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, is one of the 15 new additions in the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

    The entry "sexting," photographed in New York, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, is one of the 15 new additions in the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

For the second time in a month, authorities are investigating the sharing of inappropriate images among Edison Middle School students in Wheaton.

The latest case involves a photo an eighth-grade girl took of herself in the shower and sent to a classmate, her mother says. That led to more sharing and creation of phony Twitter accounts that further demeaned the girl, according to her mother.

Those claims come just two weeks after two 14-year-olds from the middle school were charged criminally with harassment by electronic communications, obscenity and transmission of an obscene message. In that instance, authorities said only that the offenses involved "created" images involving students and staff members.

Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 leaders said they became aware of the second case last week.

"It was brought to our attention that there were some inappropriate images being shared via some social media and via texting," said Erica Loiacono, director of public relations.

School officials immediately called police, and an investigation has begun, Loiacono said. She said "less than 10" students already have been disciplined.

An email was sent to Edison Middle School parents Monday reminding them to encourage their children to tell someone if they see or hear of inappropriate material being shared through social media or texting.

"It didn't specifically cover the current situation that is currently under an ongoing investigation," Loiacono said. "It's not completely resolved; that's why we didn't send out an explicit communication."

Wheaton Police Chief Mark Field confirmed via email that there was a second social media case involving Edison Middle School students that police were asked to investigate. He said the case is separate from the one involving the two 14-year-old boys.

Field referred questions to the DuPage County state's attorney's office, but spokesman Paul Darrah said that office isn't aware of any new charges, cases or allegations involving Edison students.

The mother of the eighth-grade girl -- who was one of those disciplined by the district in the latest case -- says she is speaking out in the hope that what happened to her daughter doesn't happen to others.

"I just feel like no one knows that there was this second scandal," the mother said Friday.

Identities are being withheld to protect the girl, whom her mother said has faced bullying and harassment for several months.

"She's still being ridiculed for getting people in trouble," the mother said.

She says the problem began when her daughter started exchanging texts with a male classmate.

In February, the mother said, the boy repeatedly asked the girl to send him nude photos. Eventually, he sent her a photo of his genitals through a mobile application called Snapchat.

A photo sent through Snapchat is supposed to disappear after a few seconds, but the image can be saved if the receiver quickly takes a "screen shot."

The girl responded by sending the boy a topless photo of herself from a shower in her home. Like the boy, she sent the image through Snapchat, but the boy saved the image, the girl's mother says.

A short time later, the boy shared the photo with his friends, according to the mother.

At least one other boy then formed several Twitter accounts in the girl's name, the mother said. On it, he posted demeaning comments about the girl's breasts and posted a photo from her Facebook account that was pixilated to make it appear as if she were topless.

"It's totally against any other realm of behavior she has engaged in," the mother said. "I'm sure a lot of parents think that. There was a lot of peer pressure. There was a culture where this was going on."

The mother said she notified the school on June 4. The next day, her daughter was suspended and banned from attending Tuesday's graduation ceremony.

"I do think what she did is wrong, but I do view her more as a victim than a perpetrator because she didn't do anything to hurt anyone," the mother said.

The boy who received her daughter's photo also has been disciplined, the mother said.

The mother said she's angry with the response she's received so far from district administrators and what she feels is a lax cellphone policy at the school.

"(My daughter) was very tormented," the mother said. "There was a culture of sexually explicit material and belittling and bullying and harassment that my daughter was not protected from in any way."

The mother said she is attending a June 18 hearing with the school board regarding the girl's suspension.

Loiacono said she is not aware of any other reports of inappropriate images being spread by students in the district.

The district held several parenting seminars this past school year focused specifically on using social media in responsible ways, Loiacono said.

In addition, most students take a digital citizenship class as an elective in seventh grade.

Loiacono said the positive response from the parenting seminars coupled with the two recent cases involving inappropriate images will be taken into account as officials continue to identify ways to be proactive with the issue.

"We are definitely going to be taking a look at everything related to how we can keep our students safe in the digital age," she said.

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