The Lower Merion School District didn’t do anything wrong when Harriton High School Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko confronted a student over alleged “inappropriate behavior in his home” and “cited as evidence a photograph from a webcam embedded in” the student’s “personal laptop issued by the school district” (1). That is the reported decision of U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger after an internal investigation by the school district and an investigation conducted by the FBI. The issue under consideration was whether or not the school district intentionally meant to spy on students in their home. The answer to that question was “no.” The school district only admitted that it made some “mistakes.”
School district employees used the remote picture-taking ability of the webcams to snap over 400 pictures of one student in his home. In some of them he was partially undressed. School district employees snapped over 56,000 pictures from their 2,300 laptop computers supposedly for the purpose of locating lost laptop computers. That’s just shy of 25 pictures per computer. Jacqui Cheng, Senior Apply Editor writing at arstechnica.com, reported that
IT staff responsible for monitoring the student laptops seemingly viewed the whole thing as entertainment, with one admin telling another via e-mail that the photos were "like a little [Lower Merion School District] soap opera." Another responded with, "I know. I love it!"
So, if they didn’t do anything wrong, why did the school district settle a lawsuit for $610,000? The school district claims that it was protecting the financial interests of the tax-payers. There were $1.2 million in legal fees for this case. $185,000 went to the two students involved in the case, with one student reaping $175,000 and another receiving $10,000. $425,000 went to lawyers for the plaintiffs legal expenses. $1.2 million dollars is a lot of tax-payer money for “mistakes.”
What concerns me the most about this case is the one issue that hasn’t been reported on or discussed. I raised this in my original post. In what world do school administrators believe that they have the right to reach into a private citizen’s home and discipline the citizen? Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko “informed minor Plaintiff that the School District was of the belief that minor Plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor Plaintiff’s personal laptop issued by the School District.” School district personnel have no right to discipline students for their behavior in their homes! Why would they even want to? It’s not as if school administrators lack for things to do. If a judge somewhere decides that this is an acceptable action for government-run schools to take, don’t the administrators realize that a precedent will be set for the government to look into their homes, too? Where are our fourth amendment rights in this case? Do school administrators believe that they are exempt from the US Constitution?
School districts have no business buying and distributing laptop computers to students. There is no possibility of financial loss to taxpayers through lost or stolen computers when the responsibility for purchasing computers is left where it should be – with individual parents. There is nothing so critical in the computer world that it will significantly harm a student’s education if they learn without the use of a laptop. There is no evidence that the use of laptops is significantly improving education in America, or improving our test scores against those of students from other countries. Without these laptops, there is no need to hire IT personnel to monitor district issued computers. That removes the possibility of district personnel snooping for their personal entertainment into the private lives of students.
My children are not and never will be a source of entertainment for school district employees.
(1) http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/documents/laptop_civil_action.pdf (Page 6, paragraph 23)
(3) http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/10/school-settles-laptop-spying-case-to-protect- taxpayers.ars