COLUMBUS – The ACLU of Ohio recently sent letters to Ohio superintendents advising them on the current state of student rights, specifically in regard to using technology like cell phones and Internet. In the letter, the ACLU urged superintendents to use appropriate tools to curb teenagers’ unwise use of technology rather than harsh punishment.

The questions over student rights and technology hit a fever pitch in spring 2009 as many were concerned about increases in teen sexting. Sexting refers to sending nude or partially nude photos of yourself or others via electronic devices like cell phones. While the ACLU does not condone the practice, the organization previously sent letters to state prosecutors and legislators urging them not to pursue criminal charges against teens who sext.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “It is critical that school officials are informed on the current state of the law, rather than guided by unfounded fears. Of course teens must be counseled on how to respectfully use technology in order to protect themselves and others, but we should not engage in witch hunts that seek to only punish them for poor decisions. ”

“Criminalizing our children for a foolish mistake does little to prevent future occurrences and may harm a child’s life permanently. Various officials have considered charging students with felonies and misdemeanors that carry penalties and stigmas that they will endure well into their adult lives. Instead of seeking to punish these young people, we must work compassionately to help them understand the gravity of their actions and their effect on others,” added Link.

In addition to the recent furor over sexting, students’ Internet activity has come under increasing scrutiny. Many school districts, colleges and police departments are actively monitoring social networking sites and online message boards for student activity.

“Students should be educated on how to safely and respectfully use technology. However, putting them into the criminal justice system will only ruin lives and do little to teach young people to respect themselves and others. As parents, educators and community leaders, we must work harder to engage youth rather than just putting them in a cell and throwing away the key,” concluded Link.