Former teacher accepts plea

Published 9:27 am Thursday, October 4, 2018

More than two years after she was arrested for sending nude photographs of herself to students, former teacher Shannon Handy Wood, 35, was sentenced in Davie Superior Court Monday.

Represented by Raleigh attorney Miranda Mills, Wood appeared before Judge Mark E. Klass. She and two family members listened as Assistant DA Rob Taylor gave a detailed background on what led to Wood’s arrest Sept. 22, 2016.

According to Taylor, sometime during the summer of 2016, Wood, who taught physical education and other classes as needed at William Ellis Middle School, sent photographs to at least one male former student, who was 14 at the time. The photographs showed Wood nude and partially nude, in provocative poses. Some of them used Snapchat filters that placed flowers around Wood’s head, and some contained suggestive wording, but Taylor said they were unable to determine if Wood or a student added the wording.

They also were not able to figure out if Wood or the original victim sent the photos to another male student, about the same age, but the photos quickly became widely distributed.

When she was initially questioned, Wood said the photos were sent to her husband and meant for him only, but then admitted to sending them.

“When she was asked why she sent the photos to the victim, she told officers, ‘Because he asked for them,’” said Taylor.

She told investigators some students threatened her by telling her if she didn’t send them pictures, they’d tell on her.

“Then later, there was some evidence that was true for one or two of the students. That might be an excuse but it’s a very bad one. She made the decision to send the first one in the first place,” Taylor said, noting when he gave presentations at the middle school about the dangers of such behavior, it was Wood who ran the slideshow for him.

There was no evidence of any physical contact between Wood and any students.

Wood was charged with three misdemeanors of disseminating material harmful to a minor under age 16, and the felonies disseminating obscene material to a minor under age 16, solicitation to commit a statutory sex offense, and taking indecent liberties with a child. Under the plea arrangement, she was sentenced on one felony and two misdemeanors.

In order to have been able to proceed with a trial, the teenage witnesses would have had to testify. “The state is not in a position to call unwilling teenage witnesses to court if that’s not what they want to do,” said Taylor. “There was not one parent in this case that wanted their child here.”

Taylor said Wood should never be able to teach again and voluntarily surrendered her teaching license. The fact she has been free, while awaiting sentencing, to attend school events, including those involving her two young children, “has greatly infuriated parents and others in the community,” Taylor said.

On Wood’s behalf, Mills said, there was concrete evidence found on cell phones that Wood was being blackmailed and Wood denied adding the wording to the photos. While the teens also denied adding the wording, the evidence pointed to them as having done it, she said.

Wood has undergone a sex offender assessment that indicates she is at “low risk of re-offending,” and she has had counseling but had to stop for financial reasons.

Mills said among the issues the “case has created” for Wood is the loss of her job and the income from it and the end of her marriage. She now works in a boutique, is divorced, and has joint custody of her children. Mills said Wood was suffering from anxiety and depression when she sent the photos.

“She stepped off the rope big time and she admits that. She has fallen significantly as a result of this. Up to this point, she had been a fabulous teacher and mentor,” said Mills, adding that Wood was “one of the students’ favorite teachers.”

Klass sentenced Wood to 5-15 months and suspended it to 24 months probation. She is to comply with any recommended psychological treatment and submit a DNA sample.

She is not allowed to be present at any school events for anyone under the age of 18 unless her children have a direct role in the event.

Court costs are a civil judgment, and the probation supervision fee was waived.