Mother Faces up to Five Years in Prison After Using Recorder to Thwart School Bullies

NORFOLK, VA — When Sarah Sims’ daughter complained she was being bullied in elementary school, the Virginia mother grew concerned.

Sims reached out to administrators at Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia, where her daughter is in fourth grade, but she said she got no response. In September, Sims decided to investigate on her own.

She sent her daughter to school with a digital audio recorder in her backpack, hoping to capture audio from the classroom. School officials found out and confiscated the device, which had been in her daughter’s desk recording the school day.

Now, Sims, who is herself a student at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, is in trouble with law.

Earlier this month, Norfolk police charged Sims with a felony — intercepting wire, electronic or oral communications — and with a misdemeanor — contributing to the delinquency of a minor

“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, 47, told CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday.

She faces up to five years in prison if convicted on the felony charge.

“I was appalled when I heard these charges,” Sims’ attorney 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 having just a simple conversation about what were her concerns and how could the school alleviate those concerns.”

Paulding said the recording device “was a way to make sure that that classroom was a safe place” for the child. Because it was confiscated, Paulding said she doesn’t know what — if anything — the recorder caught.

CNN reached out to Norfolk police on Monday but authorities declined to comment on the case. Police have not released a criminal complaint.

Virginia is a one-party consent state, meaning it is legal for someone to record others when the person recording is involved in the conversation or when one of the parties in the conversation has given prior consent.

The Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney’s office, which would prosecute the charges, said it just received the case report and hasn’t begun investigating, according to spokeswoman Amanda Howie.

Norfolk Public Schools referred questions to Norfolk police.

“We are unable to comment on any pending legal matters,” school district spokeswoman Khalilah LeGrand said in an email.

Sims said she doesn’t know why the school called the police and not her when the incident happened last month.

It wasn’t the first time her daughter had been bullied at the school, Sims said.

In third grade, her daughter “had been kicked in her stomach and hit with a jump rope on the playground,” Sims said, adding that the school didn’t notify her then.

“She became very anxious about attending,” Sims said. “I removed her from the school because she was refusing to go. She felt like she wasn’t protected.”

Sims said her daughter tried to remain positive when she faced bullying again this school year.

“I did not want to just side with my child. I wanted to be fair,” Sims said.

When her daughter complained, Sims tried to encourage her at first.

“I felt like I kind of let her down a little bit because I wasn’t believing her,” Sims said.

Sims’ daughter still attends the school but is now is a different class.

A court date is set for January 18.


  • Writer Girl

    Sickening. We can accuse someone of sexual harassment, with no proof, but trying to protect a child from real danger is a crime. Sick.

  • Think Positive

    It’s a parent’s right to protect their children. If she went to the school, and the complaint was legit, and the school didn’t do anything, then I don’t blame her. Norfolk is a tough city with a very high crime rate. Good, caring parents must worry alot about the safety of their children. I don’t think prison time is the answer. She didn’t hurt anybody, just looking out for her kid.

    • warningfakenews

      In order for that to happen, they’d have to view the US Constitution as affirming our God given, inalienable rights rather than limiting them- which is what they do now.

  • KarmasLilElf

    Be thankful your child wasn’t in the Hanover Area School District where 2nd grade students are bullied, intimidated AND assaulted by a teacher.

  • warningfakenews

    God forbid you should catch government employees failing to do the job of protecting the students they serve. What’s the solution, call out the enforcement arm of the government to protect their fellow union workers so that no one might get fired. Tyranny at it’s worst.

    • info please

      Just for you edification while many teacher’s belong to unions, in general school management do not. Not only does your anti-union rant not hold water, it in fact underscores the importance of unions.

      • warningfakenews

        Many of those administrators were in the union prior to obtaining their current position, and serve to protect both the corrupt government and its minions.

        Walter E Williams once observed that if he were the grand dragon of the KKK, he could not have designed a better system of keeping opportunity out of the hands of minority students than the current system of public education in inner-city schools, almost all of which are run by democrat government officials.

        So true.

      • info please

        Those are words meant to be provocative (the citing of the KKK) but do not provide any concrete arguments to respond to. Are inner city schools (and I assume you refer to mainly African American) a mess? many, yes. Are rural (white) schools in NEPA a mess? yes. The reasons for this are complex and varied and don’t fit well into a “flat-earth” conspiratorial paradigm. I would recommend you spend a week visiting these schools and seeing the reality for yourself. See how many dedicated professionals there that are trying their hardest against a tide of regulations, lack of funding and parental indifference. And yes, like all human endeavors including the most pious of churches there are some bad eggs here and there. This is a difficult problem with roots in ignorance where football is more important than reading and writing and evils like poverty and drugs abound where catching the bus the school in many neighborhoods could be deadly. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater — there are amazing stories of teacher and student partnerships that have overcome the odds to give us great citizens of all colors and backgrounds.

      • warningfakenews

        When the government and corrupt and incompetent officials fail miserably with 90-95% of the people they are supposed to be helping, citing a few bright stars here and there doesn’t absolve the rest from blame for it.

        Protecting union jobs is what its all about, at all costs. Tyranny, enforced by thugs.

      • D.Valverde

        use to be a union member for 19 years, unions are worthless, most off the time they give into management, no need for them, do a better job protecting myself, all they do is take your money, and return nothing.

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