Smitherman resigned Friday, saying she could not effectively lead the school district because “the board, community, teachers and students need to be in alignment,” according to Fox 59 News.
“Unfortunately, my recent lapse in judgment has brought negative attention to the community and myself. I am very embarrassed for that, and I apologize to the board, the community and the teachers and students of Elwood Community Schools,” Smitherman said in a statement to the news station. “I sincerely hope this single lapse in judgment does not tarnish all of the good work I’ve done for students over the span of my career.”
Smitherman said she noticed a 15-year-old student she had helped before — buying clothes for him and helping clean his house — had not shown up at school, according to a police affidavit. She did not want to call the state’s Department of Child Services because she was concerned the boy would be placed in a foster home, the affidavit said.
Smitherman took the child, who had a sore throat, to a medical facility on Jan. 9 and checked him in by using her son’s insurance, for an evaluation under her son’s name. She then drove him to a pharmacy where she had an antibiotics prescription filled for the child, again under her son’s name, court records said, and dropped him back at his house.
The total bill for the treatment was $233, the records said. The police, who did not return a request for comment, were alerted about her actions a week later.
It is not clear who alerted them. Anthem Blue Cross, the insurance that Smitherman used, according to records, declined to comment through a spokesman after the incident.
The story reverberated around the Internet after it was reported by local news outlets. For some, it served as an illustration of the United States’s health-care woes, at a time of political debates about how to improve insurance coverage.
Smitherman was hailed as a hero by a few commenters online.
In a statement published by Fox 59 News, Smitherman said that the first clinic she had taken the teen to had refused to treat him. It was after going to a second clinic that she had decided to tell them that he was her son.
“I knew he did not have insurance, and I wanted to do all I could to help him get well,” the statement said. “I know this action was wrong. In the moment, my only concern was for this child’s health.”
She later expressed regret.
“I would love to go back to that moment and redo it,” she told a local TV station. “In that moment, I just was really worried. I knew he had strep, I’m a mom, and I knew how dangerous that was for him. And I was worried, and I wanted to get him treatment.”
The district’s school board initially released a statement in support of her.
“Dr. Smitherman has tirelessly worked for the best interests of all students in Elwood Community Schools since she was hired,” the statement said, according to Fox 59. “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.”
However, at a meeting Friday, the Elwood district’s school board accepted Smitherman’s resignation swiftly, with what appeared to be a unanimous voice vote. Afterward, the audience applauded the decision, and several parents expressed relief.
“Unfortunately, Dr. Smitherman did break the law and made a very, very, very poor choice, and we couldn’t see how the school system could continue on with that knowledge.” Anne Bennett, a parent, told WTHR News. “It’s sad. It’s sad all the way around, but I believe the board did the right thing tonight.”
Jim Savage, the head of the district’s teachers union, said the association supported Smitherman’s resignation and hoped the district could move forward.
Smitherman was put on a pretrial diversion program, meaning that if she is not charged in any other incident, the charges will be expunged from her record, Rodney J. Cummings, the county prosecutor, told The Washington Post last month.
Cummings said he understood that Smitherman was trying to fix a problem.
“I think she’s probably a woman with a big heart that saw a young man in need,” he said, adding that there are “a couple communities in this county that really have some serious poverty. Elwood is one of those communities, and there’s a lot of students that don’t have resources.”
But he said he did not doubt that she should have been charged with a crime. He said that the urgent-care centers she had taken the teen to wouldn’t treat him because she wasn’t his guardian, before she claimed he was her son.
“What kind of message is that to send to the students you’re in charge of?” he said. “The police asked the charges to be filed. There is a violation of the law. Had I ignored that, I’d be criticized by people who’d claim that some people are above the law.”
He said he didn’t share Smitherman’s feelings that the teen was in serious health risk, saying the teen had a cold.
Smitherman’s lawyer, Bryan Williams, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.