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LATEST: Reaction to FBI, NYSP investigation in Port Byron schools

The Port Byron Central School District has been placed at the center of an investigation involving the FBI and New York State Police.

The District’s leader, Superintendent Neil O’Brien, called online posts under investigation “alarming and illegal,” in a letter to parents. Now he’s asking families in the district to have a conversation – even if it’s a difficult one.

Cases like this are not unique, according to Onondaga County Senior Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Woodfork. Woodfork leads the Special Victims Unit, and frequently visits local schools to talk to kids about the dangers of social media.

“We’re seeing some of the kids taking photographs of themselves and sending it to their peers and then, it’s kind of spiraling out of control from there,” Woodfork told WSYR-TV.

“Now it’s child pornography and the existence and the possession of those images are now tantamount to possessing a gun or drugs,” Woodfork added. Having and taking those pictures is a felony and depending on the person’s age, it could mean jail time. Even without prosecution, that photo could follow that child for the rest of their life.

Superintendent Neil O’Brien’s letter to parents:

“At present, the FBI, New York State Police, and Social Sentinel (a security software package we subscribe too) all give us warning signs regarding the content that some of our students are posting on social media.

In the past several weeks, I have seen (or have been advised by law enforcement about) students posting images and words that are alarming and illegal. It is beyond eye-opening to have the FBI involved, but some of the items are exploitative, and will result in prosecution for the adults involved.

I write this week asking for assistance. We frequently speak to the students about the dangers of social media, and have counselors and administrators work with individuals who have been adversely affected by it, but we alone cannot keep up with the issues. There needs to be conversations with and expectations from parents that help ensure that students understand that it is never alright to post nude pictures of yourself or friends. It is never alright to allow someone to make you do something that is harmful, or that violates your personal privacy or values.

This might seem like common sense or just “stating the obvious.” But based on the issues we’ve encountered over the past year, there have been too many instances of our students being involved in inappropriate posting on social media, or involved in other activities that violate personal privacy and, in some cases, the law.

I leave you with two thoughts: One is the fact I have to write in generalities to protect student privacy, and not share too much. The second is that both the volume and the subject matter of these stories would make you cringe and cry. There are far too many of them, and some are just heartbreaking. It can only be arrested when all of us take a stand, and are willing to speak with our kids honestly and from the heart. Having people arrested might mean that someone pays a price, but for the victims, that cost is way too high.”

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