High School Teacher Recounts "Sexting" Ordeal That Ruined His Career

danah boyd tweet-points to this "chilling story of educator in a sexting mess," and says "We should all be horrified by the prosectors' obsession with 'sexting'." Ting-Yi Oei, the Virginia high school teacher in question, is male. All charges against him have since been thrown out of court. But as in the case with Julie Amero, that final acquittal doesn't erase the personal and professional damage caused — nor does it make up for the reckless tech-stupidity of prosecutors and school officials involved in the case.

Ting-Yi Oei's "sexting" witchhunt story begins about a year ago, when a fellow teacher told him about a rumor that some teens at the school were texting naked self-portraits around to one another.

I called a student I thought likely to have such a picture into my office. In the presence of the school's safety and security official, he quickly admitted that he did. He pulled out his phone and showed us an image of the torso of a woman wearing underpants, with her arms crossed over her breasts. Her head was not in the picture. The 17-year-old student claimed not to know who the young woman was or who had sent him the photo.

I immediately took the picture to the principal, who instructed me to transfer it to my office computer in case we needed it later. Being unfamiliar with camera features on cellphones, I asked the school's technology resource teacher for help, but he didn't have an immediate solution. The student then said that he could text the picture to my cellphone. That left the problem of getting it to my computer, whereupon the boy said that I could send the picture to my school e-mail address.

In hindsight, of course, he could have sent it directly to my computer himself. But it never occurred to me that my actions could be regarded as suspect: I was conducting a legitimate school investigation with children's welfare in mind, and I did so in the presence and with the full knowledge of other school officials.

I interviewed more students with the security specialist, but we found no more pictures and were unable to identify the woman in the photo. We concluded that she probably wasn't a student at the school. I reported our findings to the principal and assumed that the matter was closed.

I left the building quickly that day — the start of spring break — to join my wife, Diane, at a doctor's office to discuss her upcoming surgery for a potentially malignant tumor. I told her about the sexting photo, but we had other things on our minds. When I returned to school two days after break ended, I confronted a new problem: The boy with the photo on his cell was now in trouble for having pulled a girl's pants down in class (another teen phenomenon known as "flagging"). I informed his mother that I was suspending him, and in the discussion I also told her about the earlier incident. She was outraged that I hadn't reported it to her at the time. She called me at home that night at 10 p.m. and again at 7 a.m. the next morning, agitated and demanding that the suspension be revoked and threatening to involve an attorney. I told her as calmly as I could that the suspension was for the deliberate act of pulling down the girl's pants. A couple of days later, after an appeal hearing with the principal and me, she shouted at me, "I'll see you in court!"

The story quickly takes a turn for the surreal. Soon, the teacher who claims he sought only to protect the kids he taught was himself charged with possession of child pornography. Read the rest of the saga here: My Students. My Cellphone. My Ordeal. (Washington Post)