Officials at Northeast Lauderdale High School suspended five students last week after a teacher filed felony charges accusing them of posting an injurious message on the Internet.
Lauderdale County School District Assistant Superintendent Ed Mosley said that the five students involved would be given due process after a full investigation.
At least one parent is questioning punishment of the students. Melissa Rawson, mother of one of the students, said the incident started with children sharing an image over the social media app Snapchat, a messaging service that allows the user to specify a time period when the message will be available, up to 24 hours.
"A girl took a picture in an art teacher's classroom," Rawson said. "And Photoshopped (the teacher's computer) to look like porn."
The student took the photo, Photoshopped it and shared it all from the teacher's classroom, Rawson said.
Rawson's daughter, who was sick at home, received the message and shared the image through Snapchat. Rawson said that at least 14 students shared the image but the teacher filed charges against only five of the students.
Mosley confirmed that number and added that investigators determined that the teacher had no pornographic materials on his computer.
Mosley declined further comment.
Because posting an injurious message is a felony, Rawson's daughter has been summoned to the Lauderdale County Juvenile Court this month.
The charge of posting an injurious message, which includes bullying or "revenge porn" (or sharing intimate photos of former partners without their permission), can carry a punishment of up to five years in prison as well as a $10,000 fine.
In 2014, the Mississippi legislature added these punishments, redefining cyberbullying, cyberstalking and other computer crimes. In the same year, Attorney General Jim Hood started an initiative to educate students about the charge and its possible consequences.
“There seems to be a disturbing trend among our youth to say hateful and injurious things to one another while trying to hide behind what they believe to be the anonymity of the internet and its many applications," Hood said in a 2014 statement. "As both a father and Attorney General, I am hoping we can make a difference by educating our students on the law and on law enforcement’s ability to track online posts."
Rawson said the school suspended her daughter for 10 days and recommended she attend alternative school for one calendar year.
Rawson said she believes the teacher should share some of the fault, because the school failed to enforce its cellphone policy.
"They can bring their own device (to school) but it's for educational purposes only," Rawson said. "But he doesn't care if they're on their phones... and the rules are set for a reason."
According to the school handbook, "Schools may allow students to use cellular phones for instructional use at the discretion of the principal."
The school didn't follow its own guidelines for suspension, Rawson said.
"(My daughter) was never called into the principal's office. He never discussed with her what she did wrong," Rawson said. "We still haven't gotten the disciplinary form at all."
Rawson said her daughter should have been exempt because she was at home when she shared the photo and not on school property, at a school function or on a school bus.
But Rawson acknowledged that the problem didn't have a clear solution.
"Yes, it's embarrassing for the teacher... but I don't know," Rawson said. "I believe it was intended to be funny, not harmful."
Rawson said her daughter would be transferring to another school this week and not attending the alternative school.
"This is something that's going to follow them for the rest of their life. They're 14 years old," Rawson said. "I just think it's ridiculous."