UNION — A former teacher’s allegation that a student at the Union County Career and Technology Center invaded her privacy by going through her cellphone is being investigated by the Union Public Safety Department.
An incident report filed by Leigh Anne Arthur with the Public Safety Department this past Thursday, states that the incident occurred on Feb. 18 between 1:55 p.m. and 1:59 p.m. The report states that Arthur “had her cellphone in her classroom and when she walked out of the classroom a male student went over to where her cellphone was and began to go through the pictures that were in the cellphone. The cellphone was not stolen but she (Arthur) was upset that the student was looking at her cellphone. The cellphone is her cellphone and it was her classroom and no one should be looking at her cellphone.”
The suspect in the case is not identified, but the incident report describes him as a 16-year-old white male.
The incident report concludes by stating that “investigation to continue on this case.”
Public Safety Director Sam White said Tuesday morning that the investigation is continuing and that investigators have obtained the student’s cell phone and turned it over to SLED.
“We have the cell phone of the student,” White said. “We got a search warrant for it. We have turned it over to SLED, their computer forensics people have the equipment to go into them and see what’s on them.”
Arthur, who taught Mechatronics at the career center, said she was forced to resign in the aftermath of the incident which she said occurred when she inadvertently left her cell phone on her desk for a few minutes while she went out to monitor students in the halls between classes. She said that the school district requires teachers to be out in the halls supervising students as they go from class to class and she said that’s what she was doing. Arthur said that her focus on doing her job as required by the district caused her to forget that she had left her cell phone on her desk. She said it was during those few minutes that she was out in the hall that the student got her cell phone and began getting pictures off of it.
The pictures were described by Arthur as personal ones that she’d taken of herself which she intended for her husband for Valentine’s Day. She said that in time between when she took them and the day of the incident she’d forgotten the pictures were still on her phone.
Arthur said that after getting the pictures off her phone, the student had told her that she was in for a “day of reckoning,” She said he then began sharing those pictures with other students, some of whom came and told her what was happening.
The incident came to the attention of the Union County School District and Arthur said that while she was the victim, she was told by District Superintendent Dr. David Eubanks that she would have to resign because she had left her cell phone where it was within easy access of students.
While she complied and turned in her resignation, Arthur said that her being forced to resign is unfair as she was the victim. She said the situation is even more unfair because the student who invaded her privacy has not been punished and is still in school.
Arthur said that her resignation is also unfair to her students who are now without a teacher and are unable to move forward with their studies in Mechatronics. She said that at the time of her resignation she was also helping two of her students apply for the BMW Scholars program, an effort that she is no longer able to continue. All this, she said, is to the detriment of her students and their desire to learn.
When reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, Eubanks said that “privacy should be kept to exactly that, private. Once those issues find themselves on the school campus, they become an issue for the school district to resolve.”
Eubanks said that Arthur was asked for her resignation because the pictures in question were “inappropriate for access by students.” He said those pictures were made available to many students outside that classroom.
“The phone should have been secured, the phone should have been locked,” Eubanks said. “That was her phone and she had a responsibility to make sure it was secured. As a result of her failure to secure the phone, inappropriate photographs went throughout the school.”
As a result of this, Eubanks said Arthur was told that she had the option of either being dismissed or resigning. He said she chose to resign the day after she was advised of her options.
Concerning the Mechatronics class, Eubanks said there is not only a new teacher in the class, but the district is working with Spartanburg Community College to get a “highly qualified teacher for that position.” He said that the teacher who is currently in the class is a substitute who is a certified teacher and who he said is doing a good job.
As for the student who got into Arthur’s cell phone, Eubanks said that issue is being investigated by the Public Safety Department.
Some of Arthur’s students have launched an online petition drive to have Arthur reinstated.
The petition is called “Bring Back Mrs. Arthur and was placed online by students Jacob Barnett, Josh Sinclair, and Matthew Caldwell. It states the following:
Leigh Anne Arthur is the victim of a blatant attack of her privacy. Personal photographs were illegally obtained by a student and were sent to other students in the school (Union County High). After being escorted off of school property, we (the students) are left to believe that she has been forced to, or given little choice but to resign. Mrs.Arthur has not only 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.
With that being said, the student(s) responsible have not received any sort of punishment. The circumstances in which Mrs. Arthur was let go is unacceptable, and must be corrected. We strongly urge you to sign and share this petition.
As of Tuesday morning the petition had gotten 254 signatures.
When asked what her future plans are, Arthur said that she and her husband have been consulting with an attorney to determine what their legal options are.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or [email protected]