Talk of the Sound has learned that parents of a middle school student in New Rochelle, NY have pulled their child out of the school district and relocated in the wake of a "sexting" incident at Albert Leonard Middle School. "Sexting involved students taking nude or semi-nude photos of themselves and sharing them with their friends.
What makes this case unusual is the large number of adults involved in the case. The incident focuses on a security guard with a past history of disciplinary problems. Also implicated are other district employees at Albert Leonard Middle School and Isaac E. Young Middle School. The New Rochelle School Board and Office of the Superintendent have known of the issue for months yet the guard is still employed by the District. Talk of the Sound has also learned that the New Rochelle Police Department was notified of the incident. TOS has filed a public records request seeking all documents related to the case.
Back in February, Albert Leonard Middle School Principal Evans sent home a letter to parents urging parents to have a discussion with their children about the dangers of sexting without disclosing the incidnet. Asked whether he had deceived parents in sending home such a letter without clearly stating that there had been a sexting issue at the school, Evans declined to comment and referred all questions to Superintendent Richard Organisciak. Calls and emails to Mr. Organisciak were not returned.
The guard continues to be employed by the District. Although she has been reassigned to a position outside of any public school building the guard continues to deal with the public and does come in close contact with children in her current post. Talk of the Sound has the identity of the board but is withholding the name pending a public records request.
This is the third serious incident involving New Rochelle security guards in the past year who many experts feel are inadequately trained and supervised. Each of those guards has been reassigned to another building and none has been fired.
The sexting incident at Albert Leonard began when the security guard is alleged to have taken a cell phone from a student which contained sexual images of children, copied the sexual images of children onto other electronic devices, and transmitted sexual images of children using the Internet. Sources tell Talk of the Sound that after taking the phone from the child, the guard did not turn the cell phone over to her superior within the chain of command but instead kept the phone and later made copies of the images which she then showed to other district employees and transmitted over the Internet, including to one district employee at Isaac E. Young Middle School. The incident came to light when one of the people shown the sexual images of children reported her to Albert Leonard Principal Bill Evans. Sources tell Talk of the Sound, the guard has a past history of disciplinary problems.
Senior administration officials throughout the District and members of the school board were made aware of the incident and have since sought to keep the incident quiet. Some school board members sought to have the guard fired but she was observed at her new post today and is, by all accounts, still on the payroll.
There are extremely serious allegations against school officials because most of them, if not all, are "mandated reporters" who by law have to report any incidents where the welfare of a child is in danger.
Talk of the Sound has been inquiring about "sexting" in New Rochelle schools since January 27, 2009 when Christine Coleman, IT Director for the New Rochelle School District, made a presentation at Jefferson School. Coleman was scheduled to speak on the topic of the district's "Acceptable Use Policy for Technology & Internet Safety Policy" but soon digressed into an extended discussion on the dangers of "sexting". Coleman described this as a problem that has been occurring at other schools across the country where students take naked photos of themselves or their friends and email them or text them to other students. Coleman stated that there had been no incidents of sexting in New Rochelle. Sources tell Talk of the Sound the incident at Albert Leonard was not the first sexting incident in the New Rochelle schools.
At the same meeting, I addressed the board and Christine Coleman, supporting what she had recommended with regard to Internet safety and offering to publish a copy of her presentation on Talk of the Sound to help spread the message. She ignored me at the meeting and later refused repeated requests for a copy of her presentation. I then submitted a Freedom of Information request for the presentation but the District denied my request on the grounds that Coleman had researched the presentation on her home computer, on her own time and so the presentation she made to the school board at a public meeting was not a public record. Coleman's repeated refusal to provide information on a topic she was attempting to raise awareness of in the community struck me as odd; that the District would make a bogus denial of my request of public records even more odd.
A short time later a notice was sent home to parents of students at Albert Leonard Middle School warning of the dangers of sexting. In the context of this newly public information about a "sexting" incident at Albert Leonard, the words of Principal Bill Evans take on new meaning.
"I am writing this letter to bring your attention to some recent situations that have come up across the country involving cell phone safety. Since we know that New Rochelle and Albert Leonard Middle School are not isolated from these issues, I thought it was important to send this letter".
As it typical of the District, this letter is carefully parsed to deceive parents while providing the district legal cover. They can use this letter to claim they did tell parents. How? Evans's words seek to convey that sexting is something that happens elsewhere but that he is being prudent by alerting parents before something happens. The second line of the letter is meant to sound like he is in solidarity with parents who know this has not happened but the best way to make sure it does not happen is to be vigilant. In light today's report, the sentence can also mean "we the people running the school district" know for a fact sexting is not isolated from New Rochelle because Albert Leonard has had an incident.
Read the entire letter here (click to enlarge):
A few weeks after the letter was sent home, Talk of the Sound learned about drug dealing at Albert Leonard Middle School. As a parent with a child at Albert Leonard, I recall thinking that the District is warning parents about a problem that does not exist in the schools -- sexting -- but not warning parents about a problem that does exist -- the kids selling and possessing marijuana. Now I have a very different take.
About this time we first heard vague reports from members of law enforcement that there has been a sexting incident in the schools. As the information was not specific and given to us on background there was no story we could publish.
Last night, an anonymous commenter posted to this site with a description of the entire event. Our sources within the district confirmed this account was entirely correct:
A few months ago a security guard in A.L.M.S. took a cell phone from a student that was showing nake picutres of his girl friend to other people in the school. The Guard did not notify her supervisor or anyone else. A few days later returns the phone back to the student. The guard transferred the naked pictures on to her phone and the guard was showing her friendsthe naked picture when someone reported the guard to the school district. As usual they swept it under the rug. They transfer the guard to [------ redacted -------] and is still there. Now I might not be the sharpest pencil in the box but is this not child pornography?
At this point, with multiple sources confirming various aspects of the story we decided to drop the story today. We have sought comments from school officials and the New Rochelle Police Department without a response. We have a great deal more information including the name of the security guard which we will publish as we are able to confirm this information from multiple, independent sources. Given the extremely serious nature of the allegations, we want to tread carefully.