BRENTWOOD -- As police continue to investigate allegations that more than a dozen East Contra Costa middle school students shared sexually explicit pictures on their cellphones, school officials and parents said Friday the case reinforces the importance of teaching kids to act responsibly on the Internet.

The most serious piece of the "sexting" investigation is that an Adams Middle School boy could face criminal charges for allegedly coercing a girl into sexual acts after receiving explicit photos of her on his cellphone.

Students ages 12 to 14 from Brentwood Union's Adams, Bristow and Edna Hill middle schools and Byron Union's Excelsior Middle School are under investigation for exchanging the images, police said.

"No matter how hard you try, it somehow still gets out there," said Brentwood police Lt. Doug Silva.

The news startled parents in a normally quiet school community preparing for the start of spring break on Friday.

"It actually was pretty shocking. I know it happens to an extent, but it's still scary," said Tammy Ikeoka, mother of a sixth-grader at Bristow. "I know what (my daughter) is exposed to, and it terrifies me."

The incident did not surprise fellow Bristow parent Jana Aubert.

"Those kinds of things have been going on (for years), but with social media there is an instant loss of control, and the backlash is more immediate," said Aubert, who has a sixth-grade daughter.


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Ikeoka added: "A lot of these kids think they are invincible and don't realize they are making choices that will haunt them the rest of their life."

Though Aubert said she regularly has frank conversations with her daughter, Thursday's incident prompted a "refresher course." Brentwood police were called to Adams on Monday to investigate a report that students were exchanging images of themselves in various stages of undress. Police followed leads to the other three schools, Brentwood Union Superintendent Dana Eaton said.

A letter was sent home to Adams parents Thursday, and one was planned to go out to Bristow and Edna Hills parents Friday. The district did not inform parents earlier because it did not want to impede the police investigation, Eaton said.

"I am saddened to hear the serious nature of what has happened," said Heather Partida, the Brentwood Union school board president. "Student safety is our number one priority, and I am thankful the police were able to come in quickly and begin to sort out this situation."

Eaton and Partida both said the incident prompted them to talk about Internet safety with their middle schoolers.

Brentwood police are working with the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office to determine whether criminal charges will be filed. Police did not submit the case to the district attorney on Friday.

Adams Middle School Principal Kelly Manke said the campus was relatively calm on Friday, as staff tried to be visible and answer students' questions.

"We have kids here that are 10 to 14 years old and are full of questions. We've tried to be out and about to help them understand," she said.

Adams has worked throughout the year to educate students and parents about the law and Internet safety, including at a schoolwide presentation in all physical education classes on Feb. 19, Manke said.

District officials indicated there may be more educational classes after the return from break.

"When students post things online, those things live forever," Eaton said. "We want to help them learn that their online interactions have real-life consequences."

Staff writers Katie Nelson and Kristin J. Bender contributed to this report. Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

MONITORING CELLPHONE TIPS:
The Brentwood Police Officers Association put out a tip list Friday for parents to monitor their children's cellphones, including finding hidden files.
  • Before buying your child a cellphone, set rules for its use, including what sort of information and images are appropriate to share via text.
  • Make it known to your child that you will examine their phone and the contents of the phone at anytime. There are several free apps available at the iPhone App Store and Android Play Store that allow people to hide images or files. Check your child's phone for the following apps: KeepSafe, Hide it Pro, Photo Locker, Gallery Vault, Vaulty and Video Locker. These apps require passwords to access them. Ask for the password to examine the images and files hidden in these apps.
  • Software such as Stealth Genie allows you to monitor your child's phone remotely and access their activity.
  • Know what safeguards are available on your child's phone, such as turning off and/or blocking texting and picture features.
  • Talk to your child about the possible social, academic and legal consequences of sexting. They could face humiliation, lose educational opportunities and get in trouble with the law.
  • Encourage your child to not be a bystander or an instigator. If he or she receives a "sext," discuss why it is important that he or she not forward the image to anyone else.
  • Remind your child that they can talk to you if they receive a nude picture on their cellphone.
  • Check your child's personal laptop to see what they have recently backed up from their cellphone or other electronic devices.
  • Report any nude or seminude images that your child receives to law enforcement or contact www.cybertipline.com.
    The investigation is ongoing, and anyone with information about the case can call police detectives at 925-778-2441 or 925-634-6911.