Vermont police said that 22 high school students, ages 14 to 17, took part in a teen sexting ring, using school-issued laptops to view photos of nude and partially nude adolescent girls.
The Milton Police Department said in a statement Wednesday that after investigating the sexting ring for six months, the case was now closed and that none of the juveniles would face criminal charges.
"We wanted to make it more of an educational experience than ... a punitive experience," said Detective Cpl. Paul Locke. "We don't want a mistake they made at 14 to haunt them their entire life."
Locke said that five male Milton High School students had set up a shared gmail account, firstname.lastname@example.org. They then asked female Milton students to send "indecent" pictures. Seventeen girls responded, sexting pictures to the boys who then forwarded the images to their individual email accounts and then to the group gmail account.
The investigation revealed 30 to 40 "indecent" images and three "indecent" videos of teenage girls. The five boys used netbooks issued by the school to view the images and email them to one another, Locke said.
"They thought it was a good idea at the time," he said. "They said that they didn't realize what they were doing was wrong."
Milton police were alerted to the sexting ring by the principal of the Milton High School and multiple female students on Feb. 18.
"A few of the girls heard rumors that they might be on this large email account," Lock said. "They got nervous and went to school officials. They thought it got out of hand."
Locke said that technically, these indecent images of underage girls "could be considered child pornography," although in this case they weren't because the pictures were not obtained by adults over 18.
Instead of facing criminal charges, the students, who all fessed up to the acts, have been referred to the Milton Reparative Board, a community board that will hold them accountable by requiring community service, counseling and education.
The agreement was made with Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J Donovan. "When you send these images out, you lose control of them and there's going consequences ... and we really need to educate young people about frankly some of the dangers of technology," Donovan told the Associated Press.
The decision was made in compliance with a 2009 Vermont law in which minors who are caught "sexting" for the first time can complete a diversion problem to avoid prosecution under the state's child pornography laws.
John Barone, superintendent for the Milton School District, who Milton High School assistant principal Scott Thompson referred all questions to, agreed with the decision not to bring criminal charges against the students, saying the school would use it as an educational opportunity to talk to students about posting inappropriate pictures and logging on to inappropriate sites.
"It's a good opportunity for us as a school district to reflect what our own practices are and what changes or what improvements we need to make," Barone told ABCNews.com. "This is a learning opportunity for the students but also a learning opportunity for the adults and for the system."