Jeff Haas asked us not to use his son’s name or picture in our paper. We admire him greatly for standing by his son.
His son is the 14-year-old from Berne-Knox-Westerlo who was all over the news recently because, Haas says, after his cell phone was confiscated during a study hall at school, the principal used it to access nude pictures of the boy’s ex-girlfriend. The principal called the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office was wise not to arrest the 14-year-old. “I’m sure it was something very innocent and giddy,” said Inspector Mark DeFrancesco of the girl, who is also 14, sending her pictures.
Schools should be a place where kids can learn lessons without getting arrested.
We granted Jeff Haas’s request, although his son said he saw no problem with his name and picture being in the paper since everyone at school — those in his world, in this time and place — knew who it was.
The reason we withheld the name and photo — which is rare for our newspaper— is we know that the Internet has reach far beyond the here and now.
Most every week, we get calls from people who were arrested in the past, sometimes decades ago, whose crimes appear online at the local library’s website for historic newspapers. The crimes appear instantly and effortlessly for anyone typing their names into a search engine.
We continue to report local arrests because we believe it is important for the public to know both about the crime in the community and also about the job being done by the police they are paying. But it was different when the week’s newspaper went out in the trash. Someone would unearth the news of a long-ago arrest only if he were purposefully looking for it, say, by going to the library and ferreting out the information.
Just this week, we got a call from a woman who said her chances at getting a job were stymied because of a mistake she made when she was 17 and was arrested for shoplifting at Crossgates Mall. That will now follow her for the rest of her life.
So we think Mr. Haas is wise to protect his son from something that might haunt him in a future he cannot yet fathom.
For the very same reason, we can see why the school principal had concerns. Mr. Haas likened his son’s iPhone to a diary. The parallel works when it comes to Fourth Amendment rights protecting citizens from random search and seizure. Although there’s little court precedent on the matter, on the face of it, it seems like an illegal search if the picture was not immediately visible on the phone.
But where the parallel breaks down is that the words in a paper diary, or a nude picture pasted in a diary, are not instantly and easily transmittable to a wide audience the way cell-phone images are. Would Tyler Clementi have jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in 2010 if his Rutgers roommate had just seen him kissing another man, rather than filming it and urging Twitter followers to watch it?
Mr. Haas also said that boys will be boys and likened it to kids of his generation looking at pictures in Playboy magazine. In even earlier times, issues of National Geographic informed generations about the naked human anatomy.
But, again, there is an important difference. Those magazine images are of people who are unknown to the curious young viewers. That is very different from nude pictures of a 14-year-old girl who walks the same school hallways. It would have been unfair to her to have such pictures transmitted about.
Mind you, we’re not saying they were. But we are saying a school administrator is not out of line to have concerns. We believe the correct course of action would have been to have the boy and his parents meet with the principal to look through the images together to determine if any harm had been done.
There’s been a sea change in technology in the last decade and schools need to be able to stay on top of the waves. Kids need to be educated on what should and should not be done. A 2011 Pediatrics article reported that 1 percent of teens between the ages of 10 and 17 said they had appeared in or created sexually explicit images or videos. An earlier survey, in 2008, by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmogirl.com found 20 per cent of teens between 13 and 19 reported they had sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. That’s a wide disparity, but, in any case, it’s clear it is happening.
New York State was wise to enact the Cybercrime Youth Rescue Act last year, to channel the flow of minors involved for the first time in sexting crimes from family courts to educational programs run by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, resulting in dismissal of the charges.
The Internet age can be unforgiving and what is meant as a Valentine for a boyfriend can end up as a nightmare.
Research hasn’t kept up with the way social media is changing our world. Certainly, it allows us to connect with people we wouldn’t otherwise know. But it can also cut down on basic human interchange, society as we once knew it.
Schools have a chance to pave the way. While BKW doesn’t allow students to use cell phones, other districts, like Guilderland, are pushing for wireless networks at school that would allow mobile devices like cell phones to be used regularly as a part of instruction.
“The greatest and maybe saddest irony is the majority of our students can gain access almost everywhere but their learning environment,” Demian Singleton, Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for instruction, recently told the school board.
By 2016, he said, 85 percent of all broadband service will be mobile instead of fixed.
”BYOD is very much a movement in education,” said Singleton, referring to Bring Your Own Device. It allows students to be “knowledge makers instead of recipients of information,” he said.
We encourage local districts to involve parents, students, and the school community at large in forums to examine the new technology and how it would best fit into the curriculum. The stance on mobile technology at BKW as it now stands is not clear with new iPads for elementary students but a ban on iPhones.
“As society and technology change, so does literacy,” said the National Council of Teachers of English. “Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st Century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies — from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual chat rooms — are multiple, dynamic, and malleable…” Schools should lead in teaching this new kind of literacy and the ethics that go along with it.