Charges Dropped Against Mother Accused Of Trying To Record Bullies

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- A Norfolk mother is no longer facing felony charges for trying to help her 9-year-old daughter who was being bullied at Ocean View Elementary. 

Sarah Sims had previously contacted the school about her daughter not being treated well by her peers, but calls and emails went unanswered.

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Sims decided to take matters into her own hands by putting a digital recorder in her daughter's backpack in late September. She had hoped to capture just how her daughter was being bullied. 

Her daughter placed the device inside her desk, but the school took it from her. 

Sims turned herself in on Nov. 6 and was originally due in court on Jan. 18, but the charges were dropped.

However, prosecutors said there was probable cause to charge Sims with intercepting wire, electronic or oral communications, a felony, and a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but decided not to pursue the case.

Virginia is a one-party consent state, according to Digital Media Law.

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."

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Norfolk Public Schools released a statement to 13News Now regarding the incident:

Norfolk Public Schools (NPS) takes any accusation of bullying, whether by a student or staff member very seriously.  In every instance a thorough investigation is performed.  In addition, school and district administrators always work closely with parents and students to quickly address concerns and offer accommodations when necessary.  It is NPS’ practice to handle parent complaints internally.  

With regard to Ms. Sims’ case, the district had a responsibility to fully investigate the alleged incident and as such a legal review was requested from the district’s counsel (Norfolk City Attorney's Office).  After review of the incident, counsel forwarded the matter to the Norfolk Police Department for investigation.  That investigation then resulted in criminal charges against Sarah Sims.  As the location of the offense was one of our schools, NPS had a duty to fully cooperate with authorities.  This included not commenting on a pending legal matter, as is customary in all school districts. 

We are committed to providing high-quality academic instruction to all students in a safe and secure environment.  Parents receive the NPS Student Handbook and Code of Conduct at the start of each school year; page 43 #3 addresses electronic recording devices.  Should parents or guardians have concerns about their child, they are encouraged to communicate them immediately to the appropriate school-level administrator.  Both students and staff are afforded due process in these matters.  "

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