schoolteacherIn Polk County, Florida, an elementary school teacher lost his job several months ago because 200 inappropriate images were found on his school laptop computer. Not surprising. When a teacher uses school property for collecting prohibited material, it seems perfectly reasonable that the school district dismisses him. But, of course, there’s more to the story.

After the teacher was terminated, he demanded that an administrative judge hear his case. And thus the fight began. The school district argued that the teacher acted inappropriately and unprofessionally by downloading the images. The teacher never denied that those images were on his computer. He also never claimed that someone else may have tampered with his computer and downloaded the offending pictures.

Instead he opined that his computer had been infected with a virus – curiously enough known as the “FBI” virus – which he claimed had surreptitiously downloaded the material onto his school laptop.

Indeed, the first (and only) person to complain about the images was the teacher himself. According to the Florida teacher, once he discovered these photos he contacted the real FBI, which informed him that this virus was quite common.  He then went to Staples and had the virus removed. But then he made his fatal mistake: he informed the school district of the problem. The school district investigated and decided that the teacher’s story wasn’t credible, and terminated his employment.

The teacher then brought his case to federal court, and hired a computer expert witness who testified that not only was it plausible that he was the victim of the malicious malware virus known as the FBI Virus, no individual could have downloaded all 200 images as quickly as the computer indicated that they had been downloaded. Only a virus could be responsible.

The Administrative Judge was convinced of the expert’s veracity, and recommended that the school district reinstate the accused teacher, place him back in a classroom and pay him his lost wages.

Why do I care? Because one of the fields that has been booming recently is computer security. The number of cases that will be dependent upon and determined by computer and IT experts will grow in direct proportion to the increasing sophistication and pervasiveness of the technology industry.

Unfortunately for the Florida teacher, the recommendation by the administrative judge is just that: a recommendation. He may never get his job back. Only the school district can rehire him and put him back in a classroom.

I, for one, hope that the school district accept without reservation or question the decision of the court and not only reinstate him, but proudly present him to the student community as an example of a person who did the right thing and was rewarded for it. If they choose to speak with him in private and make it quite clear that they will be “watching him,” at least that wouldn’t be inappropriate, even though clearly hypocritical.

By Ian Heller, Attorney at Law