Boys from Century Middle School in Lakeville, Minnesota snapped photos of girls’ butts and forwarded them to their classmates.
The game then moved to the locker room, where two girls were unknowingly photographed while partially undressed and the images spread rapidly from cellphone to cellphone. It came to an end Tuesday with criminal charges against four teenagers.
“It started out as a game and quickly and unfortunately crossed a significant invasion-of-privacy line,” said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. “This isn’t funny. It’s not a game to be doing this sort of activity, and it needs to stop.”
He outlined the May incidents on Tuesday when he announced charges against a 14-year-old boy, a 13-year-old boy and two 14-year-old girls.
The gross-misdemeanor charges include conspiracy to commit interference with privacy, interference with privacy and criminal defamation.
The court system keeps the teens’ names private because they are juveniles. Prosecutors will not seek detention for the teens, but instead ask that they perform community service and write letters apologizing to victims, Backstrom said.
“I want them to learn a lesson, but I don’t want them left with a permanent record that’s going to be harmful to them,” Backstrom said. “I’m not sure they even realize it was a crime to do what they did.”
Investigators believe more than 40 students saw the photos and video taken in the Century locker room. Backstrom said the four teens charged were the ones most directly involved in distributing the images.
The news release from Backstrom’s office offered the following version of events:
The two boys began taking photos of girls’ buttocks in the hallway and then forwarding them to other students. Then, each boy paid $5 to one of the girls who was later charged, and one of them gave her a can of soda, to take the inappropriate photograph and a video in the locker room.
The second girl who was charged took one photograph at the urging of the other girl who was charged.
The images show the two girls’ lower bodies from the back, partially undressed.
After school officials learned of the incident, they suspended 16 students for violations of the school harassment policy, the district confirmed Tuesday.
In a statement, the district’s director of administrative services, Tony Massaros, said: “Lakeville Area Public Schools are committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment for all students.”
Lakeville students can use cellphones at Century as part of approved class assignments, but must turn them over to staff if they are causing a disturbance. Student handbooks posted on the websites for Lakeville high schools prohibit harassment and sending or receiving pictures or videos of people who are partially or completely undressed.
Judy Keliher, chairwoman of the Lakeville school board, said the incident at Century “gives you pause to make sure that you have all the right pieces in place.”
“It’s just a good lesson learned, [a chance] for everybody to step back, for parents to have discussions with kids,” she said.
Jill Murphy, editorial director at Common Sense Media, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works with schools, parents and kids on topics related to media and digital literacy, said an incident like the one at Century can be a very effective way to teach kids about the correct ways to use technology.
“Honestly, examples make things real,” Murphy said. “The stakes are a lot higher.”