UNION COUNTY, Ga. — Dozens of students at one Georgia high school have been caught up in a sexting scandal, officials said.
Union County Schools Superintendent John Hill said around 50 of the 850 students at Union County High School in Blairsville were caught sending naked pictures of classmates over their phones.
That’s nearly 6 percent of the school’s population. Hill said the students range in age from 14 to 18.
Channel 2's Rikki Klaus was in Union County, where Hill said most students didn't realize what they were doing is illegal and could have led to child pornography charges.
"It's just a very large problem," Hill said. "This has been very disturbing to our high school and to our school system, and I think it's impacted our community."
Hill said a parent brought the issue to the principal’s attention a few weeks ago. Officials have since determined that at least 46 students were involved in the illegal exchange of nude photographs of each other.
The Union County Schools Police Department is investigating the situation.
Hill said the school district could have filed felony child porn charges, but decided against it.
"In Georgia, if you're under the age of 18, that's actually manufacturing and distribution of child pornography," Hill said.
Instead, Hill said the punishment has ranged from short-term suspension to alternative school, based on the severity of each student's actions, per the student code of conduct.
The district is also trying to educate parents and students about the dangers of sexting.
"We feel like it's important to educate the children and educate the parents about the seriousness of the crime," Hill said.
"Once it's out there, you can't control it. You can't get it back," Hill said. On Wednesday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the district attorney made presentations to Union County High School and Middle School students about sexting, emphasizing that nude photos could get into the hands of child predators.
The district also plans to hold a community meeting on sexting, led by the GBI, at Union County Schools Fine Arts Center.
Hill said that next year, the district will be looking to implement a curriculum on cyber safety.
Hill said there's no indication any child predators have gotten their hands on the photos.