Pop quiz: Your house is left unlocked, and an intruder enters. The trespasser rifles through your private belongings and steals compromising information, which he then uses to incriminate you. With ample evidence of his crimes, he is caught red-handed.
Should you expect:
A) The perpetrator to be immediately brought to justice, or
B) To be publicly scolded by the authorities for leaving your door unlocked; blamed for enabling the invader to enter your premises; get fired from your job; and face possible charges for your "indiscretion" – all as the perp goes unpunished.
No, it’s not an April Fool’s Day question. Instead, it’s an analogy to a situation playing out right now in a Union County, S.C., public school district.
The only problem? It’s just not true.
On Feb. 18, teacher Leigh Anne Arthur stepped out of her classroom for a few minutes to monitor students in the hallway. She left her unlocked cell phone on her desk.
In her absence, a 16-year old student accessed Arthur’s phone without permission and, after navigating through several apps, opened the picture gallery. There he found a semi-nude photo of Arthur (who said it was a Valentine’s Day present for her husband) and widely distributed it.
Arthur, told she would be subject to disciplinary proceedings, resigned. Ever since, she has been blasting the administration, and Superintendent Dr. David Eubanks in particular, for ignoring the invasion of her privacy, claiming she was punished despite being the victim.
The problem for Ms. Arthur, as is so often the case, is that she seems to be ignoring those pesky little things called "facts."
Sunshine is the best antiseptic, so let’s shed some light on what happened:
1) First and foremost, Arthur was not fired, nor was she "forced" to resign, as was widely reported. She resigned of her own free will. Period. And it wasn’t like she was put on the spot "resign now or you’re fired," but had ample time to mull her decision. Most damning for Arthur is that, under South Carolina law, she had the right to appeal to the school board whatever action was taken against her, as that body is the final arbiter. And why wouldn’t she? After all, if she were truly the victim, one would think that she would welcome her "day in court."
But instead of fighting the superintendent, she chose to resign. That bears repeating: She chose to leave. Case closed.
2) It is fascinating to note that, despite all the claims of victimization, Arthur apparently never actually reported the incident. Arthur apparently never said a word to the administration. In fact, it was Dr. Eubanks who immediately launched an investigation (including contacting law enforcement) as soon as he was made aware of the incident – which was brought to his attention by staff and students four days after it occurred.
Bottom line: It’s kind of hard for Arthur to make the case that she was wronged when A) she voluntarily left, and B) she never even reported what had occurred.
3) "The whole premise of my privacy being invaded is being ignored, and that’s what’s wrong," Arthur stated.
While Arthur may think it sounds good to frame this as privacy-rights-gone-astray issue, it’s nothing of the sort.
For the record, there is no bigger privacy advocate in the media than this columnist; if this case were actually about that, "Freindly Fire" would have jumped to Arthur’s defense. But it’s not.
The invasion of Arthurs’s privacy most certainly is not being ignored, as the student is being held accountable by both the school and law enforcement. He faces an expulsion hearing on March 14. More ominously for him, he has been arrested and charged with computer crimes and aggravated voyeurism. And according to reports, he is being detained at the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice.
If Arthur would care to explain how that’s "ignoring" the alleged privacy violation, the country is all ears.
4) Let’s cut to the chase. Arthur would have faced disciplinary action because she violated school procedures, according to Dr. Eubanks, and clearly exercised very bad judgment.
Teachers monitoring hallways are instructed to do so from their doorways so they can keep an eye on both the corridor and the classroom. But numerous witnesses state she was in a completely different room. So clearly, had she followed the established monitoring protocols, the incident likely would have never taken place.
Arthur apparently routinely allowed students to access to her phone, both for calling and Internet purposes. In the age of technology, that’s not a very prudent decision, however well-meaning it may have been. Should 16-year olds understand the difference between using her phone with, and without, permission, and know right from wrong while on the phone? Sure, in theory. But in the real world, you simply cannot assume that will be the case. Teachers in particular can never lose sight of the temptations that come with students holding more computer power in their hands than the Apollo spacecraft.
But for God’s sake, if you are going to allow students to use your phone, you cannot, under any circumstances, have wildly inappropriate material that could be accessed with a few clicks. It’s not a backwards-Southern-evangelical mindset, as many have been so quick to say. Instead, it’s simple common sense – a belief that a teacher’s nude selfie is out of bounds to have on an unlocked phone that students use.
5) Once again, much of the media has shown its true colors: Laziness, aversion to doing its homework, and above all, chasing the most sensational headlines, truth be damned.
Calling on journalists and editors to become more responsible is another column (which this writer has pointed out numerous times). But indisputably, the more they speed recklessly down the path of hype over substance, of shoddy work over diligent reporting, the more that people will tune out, as declining ratings and readership levels clearly demonstrate. The future of the Fourth Estate is at stake.
Union County, S.C., is a slice of Americana: A small, quaint place that adheres to the values that made America great — accountability, responsibility, courage. The last thing its people, and Superintendent Eubanks in particular, would have wanted is to be the epicenter of a national firestorm. But despite coming under withering attack from the uninformed, they have stood their ground and taught the rest of the country the most valuable lesson of all: The truth shall set you free.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]