The mother of a 12-year-old special needs student at says her daughter’s photo was taken as she undressed in the school’s locker room for P.E. last Thursday.
The mother, who did not want to be identified in fear of disclosing her daughter’s identity, said another student took the photo with a cellphone without her daughter's knowledge.
Sandburg principal Scott Bell acknowledged the incident did occur, and that several students came forward to alert the teacher of the incident.
Bell said within 10 to 15 minutes of the photo being taken, school staff confiscated the cellphone from the student and immediately deleted the photo.
According to Bell, the student who took the photo has been reprimanded, although he would not disclose the terms of the student’s punishment. However, he said possible punishments for such cases include detention, Saturday school or suspension.
Cellphones and Bullying
The victim’s mother claims her daughter – who has Asperger syndrome – had been bullied before by other students, and that the student in the locker room took her daughter’s photo because she was not wearing a bra.
“It was obvious the photo was taken to embarrass her,” the victim’s mother said. “I can’t imagine why else she would take a photo of my daughter undressed.”
However, school officials do not believe bullying was involved.
“It’s inappropriate what happened, but I don’t connect it to an ongoing problem with her being bullied,” said Bell. “I think it was a separate, isolated situation. But we do have to look into the motives and all the issues involved.”
Glendora Police Lt. Tim Staab said a school resource officer investigated the incident. A police report was filed and turned over to the District Attorney’s office, he said.
If the D.A. determines that a crime had been committed, there can be serious consequences.
Under current California law, secretly photographing or taping minors in the state of partial or full undress is a felony.
Invasion of Privacy
As cellphone technology and smartphones continue to advance at rapid rates, new concerns over student safety and privacy emerge.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks and Columbine shootings, state law has allowed students to carry cellphones on school campuses for emergency purposes, said Bell. However, schools may restrict cellphone use once on campus. At Sandburg Middle School, cellphones are not to be turned on or used at any time on campus during school hours.
If the student is caught with the first offense, the cellphone is confiscated for 24 hours. Upon the second offense, the school officials can hold onto the cellphone for a year. The third offense can land the student a suspension.
Still, the victim’s mother believes the policy does not protect students from potential invasions of privacy. According to Bell, the school encourages students to keep their cellphones in their lockers. The victim’s mother believes leaving cellphones so accessible in a place where students are in a state of undress is dangerous.
“It only takes a few seconds for a photo to be taken and posted to the Internet. The damage will already be done. What makes the school think this can’t happen again?” said the victim’s mother. “Parents weren’t notified of the incident. I feel this puts another child at the same risk,” she added.
Bell said the school did not discuss the details of the locker room incident with parents or students because of confidentiality codes. He said he met with students during their P.E. classes to discuss the school’s cellphone policy and the dangers of misusing cellphones. A phone call was placed to all school parents reminding them of the school code regarding cellphone use on campus.
He added that since the locker room incident, the school and the district have had ongoing discussions on possibly drafting new cellphone policies to address advancing cellphone technology.
“We are kind of hard-pressed as far as the policy is concerned because they are allowed to have [cellphones] on their person,” said Bell.
But for the victim’s mother, the school’s efforts have not been enough.
“I feel that the school should address that an incident did occur and it can happen again. I wouldn’t want another child to go through the humiliation my daughter has had to suffer through,” she said.