After one of her students grabbed her phone and took a photo of her racy selfie, teacher Leigh Anne Arthur resigned. The school district says she should have known better. But her students in Union, S.C., say Arthur was forced to resign — and they want her back.
"Leigh Anne Arthur is the victim of a blatant attack of her privacy," says a petition started by her students that has now been signed by more than 3,000 people. "Personal photographs were illegally obtained by a student and were sent to other students in the school."
Until recently, Arthur worked at the Career and Technology Center at Union High School, teaching mechatronics — a field that includes elements of mechanical and electric engineering with computer programming. The students' petition praises her dedication to them and to the program.
The phone incident stems from last month. Arthur says that while she was monitoring the hallway during a class change, a 16-year-old male student took her phone from her desk and navigated to her photos, according to local TV WYFF news. The student then snapped his own image of a photo that showed Arthur partially nude and shared it via texts and on social media. Arthur tells WYFF she had taken the photo for her husband, on Valentine's Day.
The Union County School District's interim superintendent, David Eubanks, says the phone wasn't locked with a passcode, and in a statement released Wednesday, he also questioned whether Arthur was where she should have been.
"As a result, a student accessed inappropriate material on her phone," Eubanks said, "sent it to others, and as a result may also be severely punished by law enforcement as well as the school district."
Eubanks also said that he has seen evidence that Arthur's "students routinely used the teacher's cellphone with her full permission."
Arthur was given a choice of either going through a dismissal process or resigning, The State newspaper reports.
The students' petition says the decision to let Arthur go "is unacceptable, and must be corrected." But in an interview with WYFF, Arthur says she's not sure she'd like to return to work at the school.
"There is no clothing big enough to make you feel protected," she said.
She also said she doesn't feel the student who shared the image should face harsh punishment.
"He's 16," she said. "He's going to make stupid decisions. We all made stupid decisions at 16."
Police in Union are now investigating the case. According to The Union Times, investigators used a search warrant to obtain the male student's cellphone and have now given it to state law enforcement officials for a forensic examination.
Eubanks issued another statement on Friday, doubling down on his assertion that Arthur was at fault for leaving her phone unlocked on her desk. The statement read in part:
"It is truly unfortunate that a teacher charged with proper supervision and care of students failed to fulfill that responsibility in her classroom. Evidence indicates that Leigh Anne Arthur was not in her assigned position at the time of the incident. Evidence also indicates that she allowed students to use her personal cell phone on a regular and routine basis. Evidence also indicates that the phone was routinely left on her desk for student use and was never locked.
"Ms. Arthur has used the media to transmit false information obviously intended for the purpose of deflecting the incident totally to students. The evidence available, points to the extent of her false statements."
Eubanks' statement also noted that the student who obtained Arthur's racy photo has been charged by local police "with the crime of transmitting pornographic material using electronic media" and now "will now also face possible expulsion from the school District."
Lastly, Eubanks said that he is "not aware of charges that may be filed against Ms. Arthur."