A teacher in South Carolina has resigned after she said one of her students stole nude photos from her cell phone and shared them among his classmates.
Leigh Anne Arthur, a 33-year-old mechatronics teacher (mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering), told BuzzFeed News she left her cell phone, which does not have a passcode, on her desk for a few minutes while she patrolled the halls of a Union County high school on Thursday, Feb. 18. "At the end of the class, the student then did approach me and said, 'Your day of reckoning is coming,'" Arthur said. "Kids being kids, I didn't think twice about it."
The following afternoon she said she was informed that nude photos she had taken for her husband on Valentine's Day were being shared on social media. She believes the student, who she said had been failing her class, used his own phone camera to photograph a copy of the revealing photos.
"I felt mad and violated because that's my privacy," she said. "It definitely hurts."
She said the school's principal told her on Feb. 22 to "lay low," but the following day she was told the district superintendent was asking for her resignation. After speaking with her church pastor, she said she spoke with the superintendent, David Eubanks, about why they were asking her to resign.
"He told me it was because I had inappropriate material on my phone and that I had made it easily accessible to students," Arthur said.
Local NBC affiliate WYFF4 reported that Eubanks told them Arthur was "in the wrong because her phone was unlocked and she made the nude picture available to her students."
After first declining to speak to BuzzFeed News, Eubanks on Wednesday provided the following statement:
One of the most critical responsibilities that a classroom teacher has is the supervision of students. In this particular case there was a breakdown in the classroom in that most critical area. 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. This is a case where a staff member, properly supervising students, could have prevented a very serious problem.
Eubanks also said that "evidence indicates students routinely used the teacher's cell phone with her full permission." Arthur denied this to BuzzFeed News, saying she had only allowed her nephew, a student, to use her phone on limited occasions.
Arthur said she resigned on Feb. 24 while in a state of shock, but then asked to retract her resignation the following day. "We teachers can be bullied in certain situations," she said. "I was not in the right emotional state to make the decision about my career."
On Feb. 25, she filed a police complaint alleging telephone harassment by the 16-year-old student, according to a police incident report viewed by BuzzFeed News.
Union City Police Chief Sam White told BuzzFeed News officials were investigating the incident.
"The student's phone is in custody of law enforcement by means of a search warrant," he said in an emailed statement. "The department has sent the phone to the State Law Enforcement Division for a forensic inspection of any data that relates to this report."
"No charges have been filed at this time," he said.
Arthur said that the school has not taken any disciplinary action against the student, but Eubanks said "the extent of the punishment of the student will be determined by the findings of law enforcement."
"One error, along with many false statements, by a teacher, has and will affect the lives of many," said Eubanks.
Arthur said she been consulting with a lawyer, but acknowledged her case has legal complications because of her resignation. "By turning in my resignation I pretty much terminated any chance I had to fight it," she said.
On March 4, Eubanks released another statement indicating that the student had been charged with transmitting pornographic material using electronic media, and now faces possible expulsion from the school district.
Eubanks also said Arthur "used the media to transmit false information obviously intended for the purpose of deflecting the incident totally to students."
He reiterated his earlier statement about Arthur's "failure to supervise her students along with allowing routine access to her phone," and said that the incident "will negatively impact the lives of students and their parents."
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the Union City Police Chief White for more information on charges against the students.
More than 1,600 people have signed an online petition demanding the school district reinstate Arthur. "The circumstances in which Mrs. Arthur was let go is unacceptable, and must be corrected," the petition reads.
"I know I haven't broken any laws," Arthur told BuzzFeed News. "I stand by what I did. We all have inappropriate images on our phone. It's OK to be involved in a passionate relationship with your husband."
"I have to stand up for myself," she said. "If I were just to forget about all this I would feel like a piece of dirt because I would allow the district office to roll all over me."