BELDING — When students in sixth through eighth grades enroll at Belding Middle School next fall, part of their reproductive health curriculum may include the topic of “sexting.”
Sexting — referred to as the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones — can lead to charges as serious as distributing child pornography.
“Sexting is essentially child pornography,” BAS Superintendent Leslie Mount said. “Kids don’t necessarily realize the legal repercussions at stake.”
According to Mount, any changes made to the reproductive curriculum are suggested by the district health advisory committee, which is formed by parents, teachers and health professionals.
“(The committee) noticed that in society in general, (sexting) is becoming a larger issue,” she said.
Belding Middle School Principal Joel Olsen said middle school is an ideal time to introduce students to the topic of sexting.
“I think middle school is where we first start to see a lot of cell phone usage by kids,” he said. “There’s a large amount of kids that do use cell phones and use texting along with them, but they are unaware of some of the laws that apply to cell phone usage.”
According to the proposal description, the curriculum would be designed so “students will know and understand laws pertaining to ‘sexting’ and other inappropriate uses of social media.”
Olsen said if the consequences of sexting are not taught at school, they are more than likely not being taught anywhere else.
“When you sit down and sign up for a cell phone plan, the cell phone companies don’t tell you about sexting or the consequences that go along with it,” he said. “A lot of parents are unaware themselves and don’t know what sexting is, so it only makes sense to teach kids here at school.”
Olsen said with advances in technology, the school has no problem updating its curriculum to include sexting.
“The more and more technology enters our lives, we want to make students aware of how to use it in a proper way and how it could get them in trouble,” he said. “We want to give them the knowledge of how to stay out of trouble.”’
Olsen said he understands not all children are given cell phones as early as middle school and parents have the opportunity to withhold their children from the sexting portion of the curriculum if they choose to do so.
“It’s totally a parent’s choice if they want their kid in this part of the curriculum,” he said. “But I think it will be a positive thing for our kids.”
In accordance with school policy, “pursuant with state law, parents will be notified before topics dealing with reproductive health are taught in class. Parents have the right to exempt their child with no negative impact to the child.”
The proposal will be up for public hearing on March 19 before the start of the Board of Education meeting. The committee has asked that it be voted on at the Board of Education meeting following the hearing.