(Charlotte Observer) – A South Carolina high school teacher who says she was forced to resign after a student took her phone and circulated a nude picture of her has garnered the support of hundreds of students who signed a petition demanding she be reinstated.
The teacher, Leigh Anne Arthur, who had taught for more than a decade in Union County, which is about 70 miles northwest of Columbia, said she had left her phone on her desk and was out of the classroom when a 16-year-old boy took her phone. The phone was passed among several classes of students, and the photo of Arthur was copied and shared.
The Union County Schools superintendent, David Eubanks, said in an interview that Arthur shared responsibility for the episode because she had allowed students to use her phone in the past.
“It became a regular piece of equipment that they used in that classroom,” Eubanks said. “Knowing that, why did she put that photograph on that cell phone?”
He said the student discovered the photo on Feb. 18, a Thursday, and his office learned of the episode the following Monday from the director of the Union County Career and Technology Center, where Arthur taught an engineering course.
Arthur was “confronted with the information on Tuesday,” Eubanks said, and was told that she could either resign or face “due process procedures.” She tendered her resignation the next day, he said.
But Arthur said in an interview with a local CBS affiliate, “The whole premise of my privacy being invaded is being ignored.”
Arthur, who could not immediately be reached for comment, said she had taken the photo for her husband for Valentine’s Day. She also told a local NBC station that the student should be held responsible for his actions: “He had to hit my apps button and to open up all my apps and then open my gallery.”
She said that she had been forced to resign. But Eubanks said the resignation had been her choice.
The students’ online petition says: “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.”
As of 9 a.m. Thursday, the petition had more than 3,000 signatures.
Arthur said that none of the students involved in sharing the photo had been punished. On Wednesday, she said that color copies of the picture were placed in her mailbox, according to the NBC affiliate. One had a handwritten message on the back of it. She called the Sheriff’s Office.
The school district said that the initial episode was still being investigated. In a statement, Eubanks suggested that the student who had taken the phone “may also be severely punished by law enforcement, as well as the school district.”
“I could care less about what kind of pictures she has on her cellphone,” Eubanks said in the interview. “But once students gain access to it, that becomes and still remains the big issue.”
The superintendent said that his office had been inundated with calls from people disturbed by the episode, some of them coming from other parts of the country.
But he said any anger directed at his office was less upsetting than the fact that “good students, good people will suffer from this.”
”It’s going to affect the lives of several people, all because of her failure to properly supervise her class,” he said.
Arthur said she knew who the student is but had forgiven him, according to the NBC station.
“He’s 16,” she said. “He’s going to make stupid decisions. We all make stupid decisions when we’re 16.”