Legal experts and educators alike observed Tuesday that a sexting scandal that resulted in two student arrests in Smithtown and about 20 pupils' suspensions in Kings Park carries lessons that apply to teenage students anywhere.
What happens off school grounds doesn't necessarily stay off school grounds.
Tom Volz, a Nesconset attorney who works with 10 school districts on Long Island, said students sometimes mistakenly assume that any misconduct they engage in privately at home won't result in penalties once they get to school.
That's obsolete thinking in the Internet age, according to Volz. He pointed out, for example, that images of a sex act recorded on a student's cellphone at home or in another off-campus location can go viral once they're transmitted to the cellphones of other students.
"As often plays out in these situations, those sorts of emails trickle into the school environment," Volz noted. "It causes disruption in the hallways, the cafeterias, the gymnasiums. It's a snowball effect."
Volz added that a series of legal decisions by state education commissioners in recent years has firmly established that school authorities have the power to impose appropriate penalties on students found guilty of causing such disruptions.
He cited the 2005 case of "C.V.," an adolescent student living in the Catskills hamlet of Eldred, who used his home computer to access the website of a female teacher in his school district. The teen added sexually explicit comments to the website and was suspended for more than a month after district administrators discovered what had been done.
The state upheld the suspension when a parent appealed.
Disciplinary actions against students, even if temporary, can follow them into adult life.
Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country schools, said her district has received occasional requests from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for the disciplinary records of students applying for admission there.
That's a reminder, she said, that a sexting incident or other infraction can have long-lasting effects on an adolescent student's college plans and career.
"Once it's out there, it can't be brought back, and kids may have to live with it the rest of their lives," said Gerold, who is immediate past president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.
"Kids don't see it," she said. "They think this is like television, where it can be turned off, that it's something private they can control. But it's not."
For most students, sharing information electronically is a way of life.
Surveys in 2014 and 2015 by the Pew Research Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., found that 92 percent of teens nationally said they went online daily -- including 24 percent who reported being on the Internet "almost constantly."
A majority of those adolescents -- 71 percent -- also reported using two or more social network sites. Analysts conclude this encourages students to take the sharing of information on the Internet for granted, often in a constructive way, but occasionally in ways that cause great harm.
Karen Sobel-Lojeski, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University, said that, while this is no excuse for the kind of behavior seen in Kings Park, "we can't ignore the fact that the way in which kids are forming as human beings is happening in a completely different way than when we were growing up."