Nude Photos Lead To Big Trouble At School

A former Pennsylvania high school student, now 19, has sued school and county officials, claiming school officials invaded her privacy and violated her free-speech rights when they confiscated her cell phone. What was the big deal? They checked out her cell phone, found nude and semi-nude photos stored inside, and turned the phone over to authorities.

The federal lawsuit
, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, says looking at photos on the woman’s phone was like opening her mail or viewing private home videos. As the plaintiff has said: “Those pictures were extremely private and not meant for anyone else’s eyes. What they did is the equivalent of spying on me through my bedroom window.”

How did this happen? The plaintiff, identified only as “N.N.” to protect her identity, was a student at Pennsylvania’s Tunkhannock Area High School in January 2009 when a teacher confiscated her cell phone because the young woman broke school rules by making a call on campus.

Let’s get a few things clear here: trying to stop students using their cell phones during the school day has become a major time-consuming occupation for teachers these days. When I catch a student using a cell phone during class, I confiscate that cell phone, hand it over to the administration, and the student has to wait until the end of the week to get it back. Many students have been in tears, begging me not to take their phone away, but it’s never occurred to me that the principal or assistant principal would take time to check out the contents of cell phones confiscated.

According to the lawsuit, N.N. was later called to Principal Gregory Ellsworth’s office, suspended for three days, and told that her cell phone had been turned over to authorities after Ellsworth found nude and semi-nude photos inside. Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. later sent a letter to the school, the lawsuit alleges, threatening to bring child pornography charges against the student unless she completed a re-education course. N.N. says that she took the class out of fear that she would be prosecuted.

A few months ago, I wrote about the case of Blake Robbins, a 15-year-old student at Harriton High School, also in Pennsylvania, whose parents are suing their son’s school, the school district, its board of directors and the superintendent, alleging that the district unlawfully used its ability to access a webcam remotely on their son’s district-issued laptop computer to spy on him while he was at home.

And now here’s another tale of school administrators snatching way too much authority and believing that they are the police, the judge and the jury. Privacy is privacy, and personal property is just that. Confiscating a phone when the owner is breaking school rules by using it is not an issue; looking through that phone’s contents is a totally different animal, let alone turning over the phone to the authorities.

School administrators should get on with the business of running their schools. Turning over cell phones to police investigators is not part of their job description.

Creative Commons - compujeramey


Gabriel T.
Past Member 6 years ago

What can be seen in schools is represssion. I cannot agree with that.

Trish H.
Anne H.6 years ago

I agree with confiscating phones. I agree with them not being allowed (or needed). If you think you need one for safety use a jitterbug or some other basic phone.

The official may have gone too far in looking at the phone but we need to know how this occured. I once answered my friends phone when she asked me to. A naked pic of her popped up, her husband had done this secretly as a joke. If the official found something not legal it should be reported but perhaps there are other reasons it wasn't parents then law enforcement. We need more information.

Alicia M.
Alicia M.6 years ago

At my school we were simply prohibited from bringing our cellphones to school. If we did, they were confiscated until the end of the term. This is the best way to deal with the problem I believe.

Julie U.
Julie Unruh6 years ago

Start running your schools better, not looking at children through webcam's or looking at their photos nude or not, on their cell phones. The school officials whom did that should be brought up on endangering a child charge.

Tekla Drakfrende
Tekla Drakfrende6 years ago

taking it is ok but why did they open it?

Inez Deborah Altar

supposing she had alleged an emergency call

Borg Drone
Past Member 6 years ago

if a cellphone should be confiscated, then the device MUST be switched off, for anyone who is not the owner, to switch it on and search trough it, is a Violation of Privacy.

Lauri De Temmerman

if the student had not been using the phone when she was in class this unfornuate incident could have been avoided. they should have invaded her privacy, but the real issue lies with the constant problem of students using cells when in class. i beleive she might regret at a later date when she is more mature the nude pics, but live& learn.

Joseph P.
Dr Joseph Pizzo6 years ago

Please let me follow up to my previous comment. Upon reflection, I have realized that this is a complex issue and if administrators are in doubt, they should call people like me (I'm a Deputy Superintendent), who will call the district's attorneys and probably the District Attorney's office. I've spent my career in an affluent, suburban district, but what if a principal had reasonable cause to believe a cell phone was used to facilitate a gang fight in which kids got hurt, even killed? We know kids use their cells for (usually very low level) drug dealing...if I can even call in that in this area. Conclusion? Let's leave this alone. If exigent circumstances exist, there is a chain of command for principals to follow. In my district, they would call me, I'd confer with the superintendent and she probably would follow my recommendation to speak with our attorneys and, if necessary, the DA. To date, this hasn't happened. About the most salacious incident we have had occurred when a really nice, young gay teacher whom I hired sent me the link to his page as a friendly gesture.. "Those are the most provocative pictures I've seen of a boy [he was only 22] with SOME of his clothes on." The teacher's answer? "Delete 'em, boss, right?" Problem solved. No harm, no foul. I recently recommended that teacher for tenure. While there was nothing X-rated on his page, he got the message that we didn't need our students' accessing his page.

Joseph P.
Dr Joseph Pizzo6 years ago

Let me point out an error in some posts — a teen can absolutely be guilty of violating federal statutes against the promotion of a child in a sexual performance and disseminating child pornography. My sister prosecuted sex crimes in New York City for 10 years and that's the — federal — law. I'm a former teacher and principal (middle school and high school), former district curriculum director whose office was in a high school and presently our district's Deputy Superintendent. We have every right to confiscate students' cell phones. There are invasion of privacy issues for other students and staff members, since almost every phone has photo and at least limited video capacity. However, we're not the police and this type of law enforcement isn't our job — or is it? If a kid under 18 sends nude or sexually explicit pix of her/himself to others, that's a federal crime — dissemination of kiddie porn and a few other charges. I hate to sound as if I'm in favor of my principals ducking their responsibilities, we administrators aren't qualified to make this call. When issues like this have come up in my schools, I often said, "My sister's the prosecutor [and she really was — Manhattan DA's Office Sex Crimes Bureau for 10 years, leaving as Assistant Bureau Chief). Seriously, I think all we need to do is confiscate. We don't have any legal DUTY or RIGHT to inspect cell phones.