Leigh Ann Arthur, 33, has been fired from her teaching position with the Union County Schools in Union, South Carolina. Mrs. Arthur has been with the district for 13 years, and taught technology classes. As she told WPSA, one of her 16 year-old male students rifled through her unlocked mobile phone while she was out of the classroom and found a semi-nude picture of herself that she had taken for her husband. The student spread the image around the school and on social media.
Mrs. Arthur said this about the incident:
He opened up my gallery for my pictures and he found inappropriate pictures of myself and he took pictures from his cell phone of that and then he told the whole class that he would send them to whoever wanted them.
The student also threatened Mrs. Arthur, saying according to her, “[Y]our day of reckoning is coming.”
I’m going to fault her for just two things. First, as a technology teacher, she really should have known better than to not have her phone locked and leaving it where it could be accessed. Sure, it’s possible that the student managed to get her phone before it automatically locked, but device security is paramount. Her lock settings should have been more stringent.
Second, I’m going to fault her for the use of the word “inappropriate” in the above quote. Any nude picture is indeed inappropriate in a school setting, but it is not inappropriate between consenting adults, which in most cases between a husband and wife is satisfied.
By all reports, the school did not provide her with the phone; it, and its contents, are her private property. I see nothing inappropriate about spouses (or any adults) electronically entertaining each other, if that’s what they choose to do. Their electronic devices are an extension of their private lives.
Union County Schools Superintendent Dr. David Eubanks gave Mrs. Arthur two options: resign or be fired. She resigned, but let’s be real: she was fired. Dr. Eubanks even went so far as to charge that Mrs. Arthur was contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Wait one second. Did the teacher flash her risque photo around her classroom and say, “look at me!”? No. Did she have an expectation of privacy on her personal content? Yes. Even if she intentionally left her phone laying around unsecured, unless she instructed her class to look through her pictures, her privacy was grossly violated. That’s the crime.
The only person at fault here is the student, and yes you guessed it, he has yet to be punished, even though someone also printed the photo, added some threatening comments on the back, drove to Mr. & Mrs. Arthur’s house, and put the picture in their mailbox.
An online petition, created by her students, to have Mrs. Arthur reinstated currently has over 3,100 signatures. The school district is fighting back; Dr. Eubanks as quoted by WPSA:
Evidence and statements indicate that the teacher was not where she should have been at the time the incident occurred. As a result, a student accessed inappropriate material on her phone, sent it to others, and as a result also may also be severely punished by law enforcement as well as the school district.
Dr. Eubanks also alleges that Mrs. Arthur regularly let students use her phone, I suppose in an effort to make it seem normal that a student would pick it up and use it. Frankly, that’s a ludicrous allegation for one very simple, logical, and obvious reason: how many of these high school students don’t have their own mobile devices? As the parent of an 8th grader who has her own mobile phone and was the last of her peer group to get one (as a 6th grader), I bet the answer is none of them.
The boy who did this (I refuse to call him a young “man”, because a real man wouldn’t do something like he did) deserves to be charged with crimes related to his theft of Mrs. Arthur’s personal materials and the harassment that ensued. The same goes for any other students involved in the aftermath. At the time Mrs. Arthur resigned, no action had yet been taken against the student, even as the teacher was “being escorted off school property.”
Digital privacy should be a concern of us all, and we should all demand the strongest crackdowns on those who criminally or maliciously violate other people’s privacy. Bullying and cyberbullying prevention are hot topics in schools today. The Union County Schools likely have anti-bullying programs, but when it was their employee who was the victim of a savage violation of privacy and bullying, they punished the victim first.