Officials said as many as five students were involved in sending "inappropriate images among themselves" through smartphones, according to a statement from Barrington Middle School-Station Campus Principal Craig Winkelman emailed to parents Monday. None of the pictures were taken on school grounds.
"It was contained to just our students here at the middle school," Dr. Winkelman said. "That was one of the things that our police immediately started working on. Making sure they were investigating the devices that were involved, checking to see what contact was on the devices, deleting the information from the devices as quickly as possible."
The parents of those children involved in the sexting have been contacted and disciplinary action could be "severe," according to the statement. The Barrington Police Department is also investigating, which could lead to criminal charges of dissemination of sexually explicit materials by way of electronic means.
"The kids have to understand once that picture is out there, they lose total control of it," said Cmdr. Mike Anton, Cook County Sheriff's Department.
What happens next is up to prosecutors and school administrators. Cook County Sheriff's vice commander Mike Anton says when messages are only shared between kids, prosecutors typically recommend counseling not criminal charges. A 2010 change in law also means juveniles wouldn't be branded as "sex offenders."
But for the people portrayed in widely seen pictures, returning to school can be tough.
"The damage is done. It's very embarrassing. These kids they don't want to go to school afterwards. Sometimes they transfer and have very serious psychological problems as well," said Anton.
"They are on the phones all the time. They are not talking to each other face to face. They are not doing that kind of socializing that much anymore. They are almost exploring their sexuality through this crazy business of sexting," Nurse Practitioner Sarah Katula at Good Samaritan Hospital said.
Katula said families need to discuss smartphones and social media and clearly explain the practical consequences of such behavior.
"Adolescents live in the moment," Katula said. "They do not understand that this could be considered porn and could be a misdemeanor, could be a felony, could end up in the court system.
Parents hope to make it a teachable moment.
"The best rule of thumb is if you wouldn't send the picture to your grandma, don't send it to anybody," said Lisa Blakeslee, Barrington Middle School parent.
"Social media is an amazing thing. And you have to be careful. Things can get out of hand. You have to be private," Shanel Feliciano, parent, said.