PHILADELPHIA — A suburban Philadelphia school district accused of secretly switching on laptop computer webcams inside students' homes says it never used webcam images to monitor or discipline students and believes one of its administrators has been "unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked."
The Lower Merion School District, in response to a suit filed by a student, has acknowledged that webcams were remotely activated 42 times in the past 14 months, but only to find missing, lost or stolen laptops — which the district noted would include "a loaner computer that, against regulations, might be taken off campus."
"Despite some reports to the contrary, be assured that the security-tracking software has been completely disabled," Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley said in a statement on the district's Web site late Friday. Officials vowed a comprehensive review that McGinley said should result in stronger privacy policies.
Harriton High School student Blake Robbins and his parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday against the district, its board of directors and McGinley. They accused the school of turning on the webcam in his computer while it was inside their Penn Valley home, which they allege violated wiretap laws and his right to privacy.
The suit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that Harriton vice principal Lindy Matsko on Nov. 11 cited a laptop photo in telling Blake that the school thought he was engaging in improper behavior. He and his family have told reporters that an official mistook a piece of candy for a pill and thought he was selling drugs.
I read another article about this and what supposedly happened is the assistant principle called the child into her office and showed him a picture she snapped from the webcam and accused him of "inappropriate" behavior at home. There does not appear to be any denial that this incident happened. The point of contention is over whether it was okay to do considering the concerns of the assistant principle.
This is the real kicker though:
"We believe that the administrator at Harriton has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family," the statement on the Lower Merion School District site said. "The district never did and never would use such tactics as a basis for disciplinary action."
So what do you think? Is this okay?
Is a lawsuit justified? Is this a "federal case" in that the FBI should be investigating? What should happen to the assistant principle?
I saw a quote from another article in which one parent expressed concern that their daughter had one of these in her bedroom? Does that make it even more of a concern?
What are your thoughts on the notion that it is okay because the assistant principle was just trying to help the family? Is there a situation in which activating the camera in a child's house would be justified?