SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Lekeshia Jones said she thought something strange was going on when she sent her Myers Middle School business club students off to get scissors and they never came back.
She found them a few minutes later, huddled over their cellphones in her classroom. The girls seemed startled when Jones walked into the room. And for good reason.
They had gone through the 34-year-old business teacher’s cellphone and found her stash of nude selfies. But instead of just gawking, giggling and gossiping about what they had seen, the girls snapped copies of the images with their phones, texted them to their friends and classmates and posted them on social media sites.
About a month later, Jones said, one of the girls felt guilty and came to her in tears to show her how their club prank had snowballed into a sordid school-wide social media sensation.
It was the beginning of an undignified end to the school year for the former Natchez, Miss., debutante.
“Back home my family is prominent,” she said. “I’m the Natchez Indians (Mardis Gras Ball) Queen. Nothing like this has ever happened to me.”
Wednesday, the Savannah-Chatham school board fired Jones for being irresponsible with her phone, for not properly handling or reporting the incident and for insubordination in the weeks that followed.
District officials testified Jones had given the students her cellphone password to call home, then left the phone unattended. They also said she did not report the incident but asked students to text the social media chatter back to her so she could track down the culprits on her own.
When district officials found out about it and removed Jones from Myers pending termination, they said she failed to report to work for three weeks. During that time they say Jones also forged a 2015 teaching contract offer in order to secure a loan.
When she finally resumed work at DeRenne Middle, she left her phone unattended a second time, and it was taken by yet another student.
Jones, who did not present a defense or object to any of the statements or evidence presented at her termination hearing, said her plan is to appeal to state board of education officials.
Jones said the students are the ones who are at fault.
“I feel like I’m the victim,” Jones said.
Jones insists she is not in the wrong for storing her nude photos on her cellphone photo album and bringing it to work. She said her only mistake was trusting students to respect her privacy and fetch her scissors.
“I’m grown,” Jones said. “…Whatever is in my phone is my business … There is nothing in the policy about what you can or cannot have in your phone.”
She said her password protected phone was charging in her desk drawer, not in plain sight. She also said her students never had access to her phone number or her password. During the two to three minutes the students were alone in her class, Jones said, they must have figured out a way to break into her phone and copy her photos.
Jones said she missed work because she was under a doctor’s care, wasn’t insubordinate and denies knowledge of any forged contracts. She said the district issued her a 2015 contract, then unfairly terminated her for the 2014 incident.
And she said the phone theft at DeRenne was not her fault. Jones said she was called away from her empty room for a moment and a student slipped in and ran off with her phone.
She argues that the district is obligated to compensate her for lost wages and for breaching her 2015 contract.
Jones said she is not daunted by this experience and plans to continue with her education career. In fact, she said, she has been accepted to graduate school and will begin working toward her doctorate degree later this month.
“I’m going to stay in education,” she said. “This is a bump in the road, but I’m going right over it.”