A Virginia mother is facing a felony charge after trying to help her 9-year-old daughter who complained of being bullied in school.
Sarah Sims placed a digital audio recorder in her daughter’s backpack in September, in hopes of capturing audio from the fourth-grader’s classroom.
School officials at Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk confiscated the device after finding it, according to officials.
Now, the 47-year-old mother faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Here is everything we know about the situation:
New Petition: Support Sarah Sims, the mom charged with a FELONY after she tried to catch bullies by putting a recorder in her daughter's backpackhttps://t.co/jzZoD8mltD via @Change pic.twitter.com/HGJ79h1bIN— #WelcomeDebHome! (@MissEBennett) November 27, 2017
Sims, who is a student at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, took matters into her own hands.
“I’m a full-time student, so I don’t always get the opportunity to be on the premises, and I thought that this would be a good way for me to learn the environment,” Sims told CNN on Monday.
She added that this isn’t the first time her daughter has faced bullying in school.
In third grade, her daughter “had been kicked in her stomach and hit with a jump rope on the playground,” Sims said.
She claims the school did not notify her back then.
"(My daughter) became very anxious about attending,” Sims told CNN. “I removed her from the school because she was refusing to go. She felt like she wasn’t protected.”
Sims said she called and emailed the administration during the new school year, but did not receive a response.
“If I’m not getting an answer from you, what am I left to do?” she asked local news WAVY.
The device “was a way to make sure the classroom was a safe place,” Sims’ attorney Kristin Paulding told CNN.
Her daughter placed the device in her desk to record the school day. They were unable to hear anything the recorder picked up since it was confiscated.
'The next thing I know, I'm a felon'
Norfolk police earlier this month charged Sims with a felony, intercepting wire, electronic or oral communications, in addition to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, according to CNN.
“The next thing I know, I’m a felon. Felony charges and a misdemeanor when I’m trying to look out for my kid,” Sims told WAVY.
Sims and her attorney said the charges caught them by surprise.
“I was appalled when I heard these charges,” 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.”
Sims says the school has still not reached out to her about her 9-year-old daughter.
“The thing that bothers me the most is that I am yet to get a response from anyone in the administration,” Sims told WAVY.
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.”
Norfolk police declined to comment on the case. Norfolk Public Schools followed suit.
“We are unable to comment on any pending legal matters,” school district spokeswoman Khalilah LeGrand said in an email to CNN. The district added that recording devices are banned in elementary schools.
Sims’ daughter is now in a different class at the same school.
Her mother, however, is due in court on Jan. 18.
“Instead of comforting her, she’s going to a magistrate and being handcuffed,” Paulding added.
A change.org petition calling for the charges against Simsto be dropped has garnered nearly 500 signatures.