While school is generally thought to be a place kids go simply to learn, for those without a stable home life or who lack a support network, school can also be a much-needed lifeline. And thankfully, there are countless teachers willing to go above and beyond to be there for their students. But in Elwood, Indiana earlier this month, it appears that Casey D. Smitherman crossed a line as the Elwood Community Schools superintendent was arrested after using her health insurance to help a sick student, according to NBC News.
The Elwood Police Department learned that Smitherman had taken a 15-year-old student to urgent care after he'd missed school due to a sore throat, according to NBC News, but that she was unable to have him treated because she wasn't his legal guardian (The Elwood Police Department did not immediately return Romper's request for comment).
Instead of returning him back home though, she took him to a different clinic, where she is said to have used her health insurance to have him seen under her own son's name. Smitherman reportedly told police in an affidavit that she then took the student to a pharmacy, where she also used her health insurance to have his prescription for antibiotics filled, according to ABC News. She was ultimately charged with a number of crimes, including insurance fraud, identity deception, insurance application fraud, and official misconduct, according to The Washington Post.
Smitherman turned herself into police on Wednesday, according to The Herald Bulletin, and was immediately released on bond, but it already appears as though she will avoid significant criminal consequences. Smitherman's attorney told the news outlet that she has signed an agreement with the Madison County Prosecutor's Office which would allow her to enter a diversion program. That means Smitherman will not be required to plead guilty, and she will have the charges dropped, so long as she is not charged with any additional crimes in the next year.
In a statement shared with The Herald Bulletin, Smitherman said she was "grateful" for the support of the Elwood community, and that she [regrets] if this action has undermined [their] trust."
In her affidavit, Smitherman said she'd previously attempted to help the boy before by helping to buy him clothes and help his guardian clean their house, according to NBC News. When the boy didn't show up for school, Smitherman was concerned, but said she didn't want to call the authorities, in case he ended up in foster care, according to CBS News.
County Prosecutor Rodney J. Cummings told The Washington Post that he felt Smitherman is "probably a woman with a big heart that saw a young man in need," and that there are "a couple communities in this county that really have some serious poverty ... and there’s a lot of students that don’t have resources."
Though Elwood Community Schools did not immediately return Romper's request for comment, in a statement shared with WTHR Channel 13, Elwood Community Schools board of trustees president Brent Kane echoed a similar message, according to The Herald Bulletin, and said: "She made an unfortunate mistake, but we understand that it was out of concern for this child's welfare. We know she understands what she did was wrong, but she continues to have our support."
As for Smitherman herself, she told ABC News affiliate RTV6 News that, as a mom, she was simply worried about the student, and was trying to help. She told the outlet:
I would love to go back to that moment and redo it ... but in that moment, I just was really worried. I knew he had strep, and I'm a mom, and I knew how dangerous that was for him. I was worried, and I wanted to get him treatment.
On social media, Smitherman appears to be receiving a lot of support for her actions, mostly from those who feel the story says much more about the state of the nation's medical system than it does about her specifically. Yet, it's also true that knowingly asking the boy to pose as her son in order to use her health insurance was illegal and problematic.
It's also important to note though, as some voiced on social media, that Smitherman also didn't necessarily need to break the law in order to still cross a line by being so involved in the student's life. While it's certainly admirable to want to help, children and teens can also be easily victimized by the adults in their lives they expect to be able to trust. Though that doesn't appear to be the case here, Smitherman's actions should at least serve as an important reminder that adults involved in helping children need to ensure they're not overstepping in their authority, or blurring very necessary boundaries meant to keep children safe.
Beyond Smitherman's actions specifically though, educators are definitely placed in difficult positions when they're faced with so many kids who live in poverty, in unstable homes, or in other situations that affect their well-being. So while the law has already dictated that Smitherman's actions were wrong, it also seems clear that there are much bigger issues at hand that need to be addressed — starting, perhaps, with ensuring that all kids are actually able to properly access needed medical care.