Your child is bullied at school.
More than once.
Your child was kicked or hit. Maybe called names or their mannerisms mocked.
You say something to school officials and get no response.
Sounds like what any one of us moms might face, right?
Well, Norfolk, Va. mom Sarah Sims did something about it for her daughter. In September, she sent her 9-year-old to school with a digital audio recorder in her backpack to hopefully catch and record bullies in the act.
Then, according to CNN, she was charged “with intercepting wire, electronic or oral communications — a felony — in addition to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, based on the September confiscation of the device.”
It’s important to note that those charges were later dropped. The mom was interviewed on CNN Tonight about the incident, and from there, the story spread online like wildfire.
It’s hard to imagine the dropping of the charge isn’t at least partly due to the social-media backlash and public outrage over the incident.
Shortly after the story went public, a Change.org petition was filed to “Drop the Charges Against Mom Protecting Her Child,” with a goal of amassing 1,500 signatures. Signers quickly hit that goal, and as of Nov. 29, it had reached almost 5,700 online signatures.
A spokeswoman for the attorney’s office, Amanda Howie, told KTLA 5 there was sufficient evidence to move forward with charges but the office decided not to “after reviewing the facts and circumstances specific to this case.”
While I’m happy and relieved that this mother won’t have to undergo court trials and possible convictions for simply trying to safeguard her child, I can’t help but feel flustered still.
I wonder: How in the world would a mom know that could happen?!
Did you know that could happen? She just wanted to know what the heck was going on at school because nobody seemed to be helping protect her child, reports said.
I’ve been there. More than once.
I was a big sister to a brother with autism. I also have a son who was bullied for a neurological condition he could not control. It is heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.
What is a mom left to do?
In a report from WAVY-TV, Portsmouth, Va., Sims asked:
“If I’m not getting an answer from you, what am I left to do?”
If you think about it, capturing the truth of the matter has become the norm. People record everything on their cell phones these days, from mass shootings to altercations with police to natural disasters and injustices done by others.
Police wear body cameras to record their interactions. Convenience store surveillance video cameras record familiar scenes we’ve all watched. A robber hops the counter to beat the cashier and rob the register. A truck driver crashes through a store window and an ATM is dragged away.
So what would make it a crime to record your child’s bullies via audio?
Getting the truth on record could be felony?
Would a mom even remotely think she could be arrested and charged with a crime? Would you even know why or how to check laws on the books? Would you think about what policies are in place at your child’s school? Sims’ school district bans recording devices in elementary schools.
I might have Googled it because one might consider me one of those more nervous types of people when it comes to the possibility of getting in trouble. However, it was not until I read this USA Today story did I know that Digital Media Law might be a link I would want to click and explore before I zip that backpack closed with a recorder inside it.
I live in Arizona, where the law seems to be the same as Virginia where recording is concerned. Arizona also is a one-party consent state where if you’re not part of the conversation, you are violating the law if you record it without the consent of those involved.
According to a USA Today story,
“That means ‘you may record a conversation or phone call if you are a party to the conversation or you get permission from one party to the conversation in advance.’ ”
Sims’ daughter’s involvement and consent seem to be the major questions here. The fourth-grader seemed to place the recording device in her desk. She would have had to press the record button, so she would be one of the parties involved, right?
Another bothersome part of the story
“Sims and her lawyer were unable to hear anything the recorder picked up because it was confiscated,” the USA Today story said.
So, they didn’t even get to listen to the recording? Or did they listen once, maybe, and then it was confiscated?
The mom’s lawyer, Kristin Paulding, said “I was shocked to see that the school would decide to go to the police department and ultimately charge this mother as opposed to sitting her down and have just a simple conversation about what were her concerns and how could the school alleviate those concerns.”
It seems this could have been easily avoided if first and foremost, the bullying had been handled more appropriately. And then second, if the school had simply called the mother and brought her into the office.
This also gets me: “School officials still have not reached out to her about her daughter, whose name she would like to keep private because of the bullying.”
Whether that’s changed by now, I don’t know. But regardless, she should have been spoken with sooner.