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The ACLU has joined a new high school sexting case. The civil liberties organization is assisting a 19-year-old Pennsylvania woman in the lawsuit against her former high school for a violation of privacy.
The issue leading to the sexting suit began in January 2009, when a female student was caught making a cell phone call on campus, a violation of school rules. A teacher confiscated the phone and turned it over to the administration. The student was later called to Principal Gregory Ellsworth's office, who suspended her for three days after telling her that he found evidence of sexting in the form of nude and semi-nude photos on the phone. Ellsworth turned the phone over to authorities.
When Wyoming County District Attorney, George Skumanick, Jr., received the phone, he took the matter very seriously. Shumanick allegedly sent a letter to the Pennsylvania school, threatening to charge the woman, identified only as N.N., with child pornography charges. The only alternative, according to the complaint, was for the woman to take an education course on sexual violence and victimization. According to N.N., she complied out of fear of prosecution.
For ACLU attorney, Valerie Burch, the school sexting investigation went way too far. In an interview with CNN, Burch stated: "This search was much farther than what the law allows...There was no reason to go looking for these pictures on her phone, and unless you have a very good reason, you can't go through someone's private things. We think it is a grave violation of her privacy."
The woman is suing for both injunctive relief including deletion of the photographs and unspecified damages, including reimbursement for the "education" course costs. The lawsuit names Tunkhannock Area High School, Principal Ellsworth, District Attorney Skumanick, the teacher who confiscated the cell phone, a police detective and Wyoming County.