The Little Rock School District is continuing to investigate an "unfortunate incident" last week in which an inappropriate image taken on a teacher's cellphone was transmitted electronically onto iPads used by students, officials said this week.
The teacher has not been in the classroom since it happened, the district said, but it wasn't clear whether she will eventually return.
Little Rock School District spokesman Pamela Smith said the district is still looking into the March 5 photo share at Forest Heights Middle School while also battling misinformation about what exactly happened. The story went viral, making headlines around the world and even turning into a punchline for one nationally televised late-night comic, and Smith said some details were exaggerated along the way.
Part of the misinformation may stem from a lack of details being released by the district.
Smith this week issued a prepared statement to Arkansas Online as well as a statement that was sent from the teacher to parents of children in the class. But Smith, citing the personnel nature of the investigation, declined to answer a series of followup questions, including the name of the teacher, the nature of the inappropriate image, the range of discipline she could face and when a determination on punishment will be made.
The teacher's statement told of an "unfortunate and embarrassing incident [that] occurred during class" when an "inappropriate picture" from her personal cellphone was sent through iCloud to iPads used by students in the class.
"Unfortunately some of the students were exposed to the photo by accident," the teacher wrote in the statement, which was redacted so her name was not visible. "I would like to personally apologize for an inappropriate and unprofessional image that your child may or may not have seen. Please know that the photo was never intended for view by anyone here at the school."
The statement added that "appropriate sanctions" for the teacher's actions "will occur."
Smith said there have been inconsistencies spread about what happened, including widespread reports that it was a video, rather than a still image, and that it depicted the teacher and her fiancé, which she said it did not. KARK-4 and Fox 16, which were first to report about the inappropriate image the day after it was accidentally transmitted, reported that a father of a student in the class said it was a video. In followup reports, the stations indicated the school district said it was only a still photo.
But by that time, the story had already spread around the world. The Huffington Post said the teacher showed a "personal sex tape," while the New Zealand Herald wrote about it under the headline "Teacher shocks pupils with homemade sex tape."
"[W]e regret that the unfortunate incident occurred, period," Smith said in her statement. "However, it is truly troubling that the information has been distorted, even after providing a copy of the teacher’s statement and other relevant details."
After the image appeared on the eight iPads in the classroom, the photo stream that connects them to the teacher's phone was turned off and the iPads were reset, clearing their memory and erasing any stored history of the image.
What will happen to the teacher remains less clear. Smith said that she "will be disciplined according to policy" but that she couldn't talk specifics because "this is a personnel matter under investigation."
Asked whether the teacher could be fired over the photo, Smith referred a reporter to the Fair Teacher Dismissal Act, which she said along with the teachers' contract governs discipline up to and including termination.
She said some "immediate remedies" are also allowed pending further investigation, but she couldn't say what was applied in this case beyond the teacher's continuing absence.
"The teacher is not in the classroom," Smith said Thursday. "That's all I can tell you."
Seth Meyers, host of Late Night with Seth Meyers on NBC, joked last Friday about the case, saying that parents in Arkansas were "trying to get a teacher fired after she accidentally showed a homemade sex tape to a group of middle schoolers."
"Which begs the question, trying to get her fired?" he said to laughter from the studio audience. "How's that not an immediate dismissal? There's a 10 strikes law in the Arkansas school system."