A South Carolina high-school teacher may be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after a student stole her cellphone and distributed partially nude photos from it around the school. Administrators say she should have password-protected the phone.
The male student grabbed the phone from Union County Career and Technology Center teacher Leigh Ann Arthur's desk while she was making required hall-monitoring rounds between classes last week. After discovering the phone was unlocked, he went through Arthur's photos, eventually finding some sexually oriented shots that Arthur says she took for her husband. By the time she returned to the classroom, the student was texting the photos to other students. According to Arthur, he told her: "Your day of reckoning is coming."
One might think that the student would at least face disciplinary action from the school, if not criminal charges of some sort. But thus far, the school has not moved to hold the 16-year-old student accountable at all. Arthur, however, is another story. After teaching in Union County for 13 years, she resigned when district officials gave her the choice to do so immediately or start the firing process.
Interim superintendent David Eubanks said that Arthur might also be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. "I think we have a right to privacy, but when we take inappropriate information or pictures, we had best make sure it remains private," he told The State.
Of course, Arthur was trying to make sure the photos remained private, by keeping them stowed away in a folder on her personal phone. Sure, in retrospect, Arthur should have password protected that phone, or kept vigilant watch over it at all times. But she should also have a reasonable expectation of privacy in her personal effects. And a "privacy" that allows any person to pick up your phone, purse, briefcase, or laptop so long as it is public view, rifle through it, and then distribute any contents they find therein is not really a privacy right at all.
Superintendent Eubanks seems to subscribe to the idea that "if you don't want naked pictures distributed, don't take naked pictures!"—a proposition that makes about as much sense as telling people who don't want their TVs stolen not to own TVs or those who don't want their cars damaged not to park them outside their garages. We don't say this, because we rightly perceive that the blame for stolen TVs or damaged cars lies with the thief or the bad driver, not the person who had the audacity to own a TV or a car in the first place.
Update, 3:30 p.m.: More than 1,600 people have signed an online petition created by students at the Union County Career and Technology Center in support of their former teacher. "Leigh Anne Arthur is the victim of a blatant attack of her privacy," it says. "Personal photographs were illegally obtained by a student and were sent to other students in the school."
As an educator in the school's mechatronics program, Arthur "has shown tremendous dedication to her students, but also the mechatronics program itself, often reaching out to local businesses and colleges to get materials that would not normally be available for the class," the petition states. "The circumstances in which Mrs.Arthur was let go is unacceptable, and must be corrected."