Zero Tolerance

Mom Faces Wiretapping Charges for Trying to Protect Child from School Bullies

Administrators didn't respond, so she turned to a recording device to get evidence. Now she faces jail.

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Sarah Sims
10WAVY.com

A mom simply trying to find out whether her 9-year-old child was being bullied is facing felony charges for sticking a recording device in her child's backpack.

Sarah Sims of Norfolk, Virginia, is telling the media that her daughter's elementary school, Ocean View Elementary, was not doing anything about her child's mistreatment, and administrators were not responding to her concerns. So she used a recording device to try to document evidence.

The device was found and confiscated. Then, remarkably, weeks later, Sims was charged with using a device to intercept oral communications and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. That first charge is actually a felony and could lead Sims to prison time.

Take note: Virginia's recording laws do not require both parties to know and consent to having oral conversations recorded. Only one side needs to know. So if the child was aware of the device, it's a bit unclear why the mother is being charged with violating the law.

It's possible that maybe the recording device picked up other nearby conversations not involving the girl, but we don't know because the device has not been returned and the mother is not able to listen to the contents. Regardless, though, even if the device did pick up other conversations, this is an absurdly harsh way to have responded to what has happened.

The school refuses to comment on what happened, saying they don't discuss "pending legal matters." That's the kind of thing that organizations say when they're a party to a lawsuit, which is not the case here. The school is not responsible for prosecuting the mother and the "pending legal matters" are not theirs. So instead, it looks like the school has decided to facilitate the mother's punishment as an authoritarian response to trying to look after her daughter's safety in a way that the school didn't appreciate and might have ultimately made them look bad.

There are a number of good reasons why a school would have a policy forbidding the use of recording devices. But this went far beyond the enforcement of a policy to trying to get a parent criminally prosecuted. There were many ways for the school to handle this situation and they deliberately made the worst choice.

And that's a good as reason as any as to why parents desperately need better school choice. Fortunately Sims was able to get her hands on a lawyer who was confident enough to take this story to the press, and it's now gotten national attention on CNN. What might have happened to Sims had the media not gotten involved? Would she have felt forced into some sort of plea deal that ended in an admission that she had done something bad and let the school to continue to ignore the situation?

Now that there's media coverage, don't be surprised to see the case get dropped before the January preliminary trial. This case highlights how lack of decent educational competition allows school administrators to treat parents and students poorly and get away with it. The easier it is for parents to take their children somewhere else when the schools are not responsive to problems, the more likely administrators will actually handle problems properly rather than try to punish their way out of it.

Watch an interview with the mom at CNN here.

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  1. It’s worth pointing out that the school found the recorder (which is not a weapon) in the girl’s bag and their response was to go to the cops.

    1. In a society focused on financially punishing the “responsible” party via civil suits this is the inevitable response to most things. It’s about having a set of procedures and following them, so that you can claim no financial culpability for anything that goes/went wrong. Everything must be submitted to the “proper authorities” and then we can say “all procedures were followed” we aren’t financially responsible to the harmed party, we did all we could do.

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    2. Protect the students or protect themselves?

      Didn’t need this episode to tell me how they’d answer that question

      1. Schools close ranks around their own tighter than cops do.

  2. It’s possible that maybe the recording device picked up other nearby conversations not involving the girl, but we don’t know because the device has not been returned and the mother is not able to listen to the contents. Regardless, though, even if the device did pick up other conversations, this is an absurdly harsh way to have responded to what has happened.

    They are reaching pretty desperately if the contention is the device swept up other conversations the child wasn’t involved in. It would be like prosecuting college students for recording their lectures because the recording student isn’t party to any Q and A between other students and the professor. Or prosecuting someone who recorded a lunch conversation at a restaurant because it also picked up other conversations. I just don’t see a judge or jury convicting on that in a single party consent to record state.

    1. None of the stories about this mention whether or not the daughter was aware the device was present. But if the charges were based on the daughter not knowing, then the “contributing to the delinquency” charge would make no sense at all, even theoretically, since the daughter wouldn’t have done anything illegal. (Not that the charge makes any sense anyway, but I’m just saying.) So yeah, the recording of third-party conversations is the only thing that could possibly support both charges. I think you’re right that a jury wouldn’t convict for that. But can the mother be confident enough of that to insist on going to trial if offered some kind of plea bargain?

      1. Depends on whether or not the attorney representing her is doing it on a pro-bono basis. If not, she’s likely going to have to accept a plea deal. If she’s got the money to go toe to toe with the government, or a pro-bono attorney who is competent enough for it, then she should do just that. Refuse any plea deal that would admit any wrongdoing.

        It would help her a lot if she could prove she attempted to resolve this through the administration before using the recording device.

  3. That’s the kind of thing that organizations say when they’re a party to a lawsuit, which is not the case here.

    They know it’s coming.

  4. As long as they are a part of the conversation or openly listening to a conversation, people should be able to record anything they want, regardless of whether they tell the other people. Who do these laws protect other than crooks? If I say something to you, I do so with the understanding that you are free to disseminate that information as you like. So, I have no standing to complain when you record that information. All saying you can’t record what I say does is allow me to lie and deny I ever said it.

    1. Who do these laws protect other than crooks?

      Donald Sterling?

      1. Don’t tell your mistress to stay away from black men unless you want to answer for it.

        1. Yes good advice we should all live by but still not a crook.

    2. “Who do these laws protect other than crooks?”

      Government employees.

      1. He said OTHER than crooks.

        1. Those are well paid crooks.

      2. He already said crooks.

  5. Kind of sounds like the school is reacting out of embarrassment.

    1. Of course, they are. If they didn’t have anything to hide, they would have welcomed the whole thing being recorded. The recording is in many ways a wonderful thing, provided you are honest. It is like cops using body cams. Now that they are in widespread use, it has turned out that they harm criminals a lot more often than they harm cops. In fact, this is happening so often, I read the other day where some civil rights groups have resorted to calling body cams racist.

      Fuck that. If you are going to do or say something, you shouldn’t worry about it being recorded.

      1. If you are going to do or say something, you shouldn’t worry about it being recorded.

        If there were few, just laws, that would likely be correct. With “3 Felonies a Day”, however…

        1. I really don’t think many people break those laws by what they say. Not allowing recording isn’t going to save anyone from running afoul of those laws. In fact, recordings are just as likely or maybe more likely to save them as they are to hang them.

          1. I really don’t think many people break those laws by what they say.

            No, but they might admit they’ve broken a law they’ve never heard of.

            But, as sometimes happens, I disagreed with your premise but agreed with your conclusion. Recording isn’t an initiation of force and shouldn’t have force used upon it.

      2. If they didn’t have anything to hide, they would have welcomed the whole thing being recorded.

        Having something to hide – or not – has nothing to do with it. It’s about following every last letter of policy and punishing trespassers thereon, untempered by any hint of critical thought or human consideration.

        /parent of a Norfolk Public Schools student

        1. Critical thought? We’re talking about the school system here.

  6. It’s my understandig they found the device almost as soon as she got to school, apparently they search bags, so the likelihood of anything being on it is small.

  7. Sims was charged with using a device to intercept oral communications

    Yep, those recording devices are like silencers — they completely suck up all the sounds around them.

    1. “We need a MUSIC FIX!”

  8. There are a number of good reasons why a school would have a policy forbidding the use of recording devices.

    Recording devices like cellphones and tablets?

  9. Mom Faces Wiretapping Charges for Trying to Protect Child from School Bullies

    , who are now bullying her child *even more*.

  10. There are a number of good reasons why a school would have a policy forbidding the use of recording devices.

    Such as?

    1. Why can’t a student record his classes for later use?

      1. If the class wasn’t useful the first time, it won’t be more useful the second time around.

        1. “But the first time I was asleep! Or hungover or something.”

  11. There are a number of good reasons why a school would have a policy forbidding the use of recording devices.

    Really? What are they?

    For a while there in high school I used one of those little tape recorders to tape lectures because some of my teachers would rapidly blow through a ton of info and I couldn’t take notes fast enough. Of course, no one had the slightest problem with it. That was way back in the before time though.

  12. I wonder if a grand jury looks at this case. If so will they have balls enough to tell the prosecution to fuck off, or are grand juries too emasculated?

    1. Oh, they’re way too emasculated. Grand juries are well known for doing whatever the prosecutors tell them to do, period. They’re good little sheeple and they like it that way.

    2. That recorder looks a lot like a ham sandwich — — —

  13. So when is mom’s lawyer going to file charges against the school administration for conspiracy to commit child abuse? They all worked in concert to enable the bullying.

  14. I found this article to be informative, educational and enjoyable, up to a point. Then the author turned this into a propaganda piece for school choice and his personal biases. Did the popup asking for members pop up? I would be more likely to support a site known for the seven paragraphs of this article than one known for the last two paragraphs.

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