By Emily Wiest
Elm Staff Writer
Casey Smitherman, superintendent of the Elwood School District of Indiana, was arrested and charged with felony insurance fraud last week after using her son’s insurance to cover the treatment of a sick student.
Smitherman took the student, who had been absent from school with what was suspected to be strep throat, to see a doctor out of concern for health complications. The student reportedly lives with an elderly family member without a car, and was therefore unable to get medical attention on his own.
Smitherman claimed that the student was her son in the doctor’s office, and used her son’s insurance to cover the $233 charge for his treatment.
This is not the first instance of Smitherman helping this particular student outside her capacities as superintendent. She has also assisted the 15-year-old in purchasing clothing and cleaning his house. Smitherman reportedly told authorities that she didn’t call the Department of Child Services because she didn’t want the student to be placed in foster care.
Ultimately, the charges against Smitherman were dropped. The question must be asked, though, when is it appropriate for a school official to play such a large role in a student’s personal life?
“I knew he did not have insurance, and I wanted to do all I could to help him get well,” Smitherman said in an official statement, “I know this action was wrong. In the moment, my only concern was for this child’s health.”
The school board stood by Smitherman, referring to the incident as an “unfortunate mistake but we understand that it was out of concern for this child’s welfare.”
No one can blame the superintendent for her concern over a child’s health, but the underlying legal and professional implications call for a larger discussion. At what point is a school official’s involvement in a student’s life inappropriate?
Smitherman’s good intentions are apparent in this case, but what precedent does this kind of involvement set? In general, an official involving themselves this personally in a child’s home life while taking precautions to avoid the Department of Child Services could easily be seen as highly suspicious.
The official misconduct and identity fraud charges must also be considered. Smitherman’s call to help a sick child regardless of circumstance is understandable for anyone with a conscience, but surely there were other options than breaking laws and committing fraud that could have been considered. Why not pay out of pocket for the treatment? At $233, it doesn’t seem like a steep price for the superintendent of a school district to pay.
Even though the legal charges were dropped, Smitherman resigned from her position as superintendent with the purpose of protecting the school district from receiving further negative attention, she said in a statement to WTTV.