Bringing the law to the classroom
LONDONDERRY - Teacher Marna Ducharme's seventh graders already know plenty about their rights according to the U.S. Constitution. Last week, they learned those rights also come with responsibilities.
On Thursday, local lawyer Sharon Ryan stopped by the school to teach a special class of her own, as part of the Lawyer in Every School Program.
Each spring, the New Hampshire Bar Association sponsors an annual Lawyer and Judge in Every School program, where practicing attorneys and judges are asked to visit their local schools and conduct various learning exercises with the students there.
Ryan, as attorney with the state department of Health and Human Services, has been visiting the school for many years now. Thursday's visit marked her 12th appearance at Londonderry Middle School.
Last fall, she taught students about the Constitution, noting that many of the children were shocked to learn that most of the constitutional rights don't quite yet apply to them because they're still minors.
That doesn't mean they can't get in trouble, however, as Ryan soon noted.
'While you don't have the same level of rights as adults do, it's still your responsibility to behave properly,' she told the class.
During several 40-minute sessions, Ryan educated the students on such topics as bullying, harassment and 'sexting,' and how those offenses are typically dealt with at the state and federal levels.
For instance, many of the youngsters were surprised to learn what could happen to them if one of their friends sends them an inappropriate photo of themselves by cell phone.
'Any (nude) photograph of someone under 18 could be considered child pornography, even if it was taken by that person,' Ryan told the students, noting that those who receive such text messages are left with two choices: delete the photo and tell no one, or save the photo and bring it straight to the police.
'The question is, how much do you want to protect your friend or fellow student,' she added. 'This is something really serious and this person needs help. And once you send something like this: well, the problem is it never really goes away.'
Possession of child pornography comes with a hefty price, even for juveniles, Ryan further noted. 'You could get anywhere from seven to 11 years for this,' she said. 'And the juvenile detention system is not a pleasant place to be.'