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U.S. high school scandal involves hundreds, triggers huge investigation.

KANSAS (CyHAN)- What is being called the biggest "sexting" high school scandal in American history -- involving hundreds of teenage students and a football team -- has stunned a small, conservative city south of Denver and triggered a full-scale investigation.

Canon City high officials Friday revealed "half" the school's football team and hundreds more are being investigated for their involvement in taking, collecting and distributing nude, semi-nude, or sexually inappropriate pictures of students to their classmates.

Authorities say some students have been suspended, and that some involved are as young as 14-years-old.

The "inappropriate" images -- traded by students like baseball cards -- show "equally" pictures of girls and boys, school officials said Friday.

The disclosures caused the heralded Canon City high "Tigers" football team, representing a school of 1,100 students, to forfeit its last game of the season Saturday and a potential playoff berth.

Canon City School Superintendent George Welsh played down the scandal at a press conference Friday.

"There isn't a school in the United States that hasn't dealt with the issue of sexting -- what's different about this is it's large scale," Welsh said.

"The city of Canon City is any town, USA...it's going on everywhere," he added.

An October 2013 "sexting" incident at Adams High School in Rochester Michigan involved more than 30 students and featured boys asking girls for naked pictures that were disbursed to hundreds of students.

The Michigan scandal ended with five students facing federal charges and 12 being referred to juvenile court.

In Canon City, located 90 miles (144 km) southwest of Denver, authorities found "several hundred" inappropriate photographs on just one student's phone, according to Canon City Police Chief Paul Schultz.

"We will be attempting to identify the people... and make our best determination if there have been any violations of the law," Schultz said Friday."

"Sexting," or sending sexually suggestive or explicit electronic messages by cell phone, exploded in the American spotlight after a 2008 survey revealed that 20 percent of all 13-19 year olds in America had "sexted."

At a packed, "emergency" meeting Thursday night at Canon City high, distraught parents heard school officials try to make sense out of a scandal that spread like wildfire through the school.

"It was flooring to find so many and there are more we don't know about," said Principal Brett Meuli to a room filled with upset parents.

This week, school officials, acting on an anonymous tip on "Safe2Tell," started confiscating cell phones, and discovered images students had hidden using "photo vault" applications, one using the phone's calculator to hide the pictures.

"The decision was made based on what we saw to call the police, and at that point, you just need to hand over everything you got and let the criminal investigation proceed," said county school superintendent George Welsh.

And when Welsh asked school athletic officials this week if any members of the football team were involved, the answer caused the last game of the season to be forfeited.

"If we're going to preach character and integrity and doing the right thing when nobody's looking," said Athletic director Scott Manchester, then "we just can't step on the field, compete, and represent our school and our community with...that," he said.

"I think it's important that parents and students understand that the mere possession of these materials does constitute an ongoing crime," said District Attorney Thom LeDeux, whose investigation may take months.

LeDeux said some students face felony charges, and that cases involving minors, 17 years old or younger, are considered more severe.

The DA added that his investigation will see if any adults were involved, if any sexual contact occurred, if anyone was coerced into taking photos, or if there were any threats of retaliation for reporting the incident.

In her April 2015 book, Sexting Panic, University of Colorado communications professor Amy Hasinoff argues that criminalization and "abstinence policies meant to curb 'sexting' often fail to account for the distinction between consensual sharing and the malicious distribution of a private image."

Hasinoff thinks sexting does not inevitably victimize young women, but instead, that young people's responses to sexting are realistic, normal, and "nuanced," rather than based on "misplaced fears about deviance, sexuality, and digital media."

Those views are not shared by conservative Republicans, who dominate Colorado politics in rural areas outside the Democratic bases of Denver, Boulder and the bigger cities in the state. (Cihan/Xinhua) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Nov 7, 2015
Words:749
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