The Durango Police Department has opened an investigation into inappropriate and explicit photographs shared on social media among Durango School District 9-R high school and middle school students, the district announced this week.
Superintendent Dan Snowberger alerted parents to the investigation in an email Wednesday night that detailed how, in recent weeks, district staff has seen an increase in reports of students sharing inappropriate pictures of themselves with friends.
“Those pictures, often without clothing, are being placed into shared social media accounts and distributed among other students, and in some cases, the students who shared the picture are not aware of their image being shared more broadly,” Snowberger said.
Detective Josh Newman said he started investigating the photo sharing Dec. 12, and students were mainly using SnapChat to share photos.
Sharing explicit photographs of teens can be considered criminal distribution of child pornography, he said. But police do not plan to charge students because their intent was not to distribute pornography, he said.
“We are trying to educate kids and their parents about the potential dangers and legal consequences if things were to continue,” he said.
Newman said he had identified a couple dozen students who were involved, but he knows far more students were involved.
The problem came to light when students “passed along” information to counselors at one of the middle schools, he said. He declined to name the school.
The photo sharing began last spring but was not reported to any adult or authorities until recently, Snowberger said in an email to The Durango Herald.
Student have been freely sharing their social media login information so other students can post for them while they are unable to do so, which presents opportunities for photos to be inappropriately shared, Snowberger said in a letter to parents.
Newman said students usually share login information to maintain their ShapChat streaks. (A SnapChat streak is when users send snaps back and forth with a friend for several consecutive days.)
The district is contacting parents of students involved in the behavior. However, Snowberger encourages parents to review their students’ phones because there is no guarantee that every student will be identified, he wrote.
He also urged parents to place parental controls on students’ phones.
“Sadly, when something gets posted to social media, the web, or to the cloud, there is no such thing as deleting such a post or picture and those pictures could resurface on the internet, further exposing students,” he said.
In his email to the Herald, Snowberger said the letter to parents is meant to ensure them the district did not miss a “learning opportunity available to all of our students.”
The Durango police is expected to be in contact with district families as necessary, he said. The district does not anticipate additional news about the investigation, he said in the email.
The superintendent also informed parents in the letter that the district has seen “an uptick” in students’ use of alcohol, vape pens and other illegal substances at schools. Some substances are shared in snacks and drinks that may seem harmless.
“We’ve had some instances where students have unknowingly shared or consumed illegal substances due to peer pressure and the need to belong,” he said.
Students face discipline when they distribute a substance, even if they aren’t aware of their actions, he wrote.
Students using social media can protect themselves by not sharing anything that could not be seen by the general public.
Snowberger also advised students to refuse snacks and drinks that are not clearly store-bought and unopened.
Students can make anonymous reports about illicit substances through Safe2Tell.org, the Safe2Tell Mobile App or by calling (877) 542-7233.