Wow: "Big Brother" really is watching!
Michelle Brownlow: When the assistant principal of Harriton High School in Lower Merion Township, Pa., called Michael and Holly Robbins and told them that their son was in trouble due to inappropriate behavior, they were as disappointed as any parents would be. Little did they know, their disdain would soon shift from their son's actions to their school district's.
This wealthy district issues a laptop to each of its students, to be toted to and from school. The laptops come equipped with all the bells and whistles, including webcams. And it was one of these webcams that caused the Robbins family to file a class-action complaint against the Lower Merion School District.
Unbeknownst to parents or students, the school's faculty had the ability to remotely activate any student's webcam at any time. Teachers and administrators could watch the students at home without their knowledge, the suit claims. The Robbins' son, in fact, wasn't facing possible punishment for behavior witnessed at school, but for something that a faculty member had seen him do via webcam while he was home.
The suit, filed Tuesday, says that unnamed officials at the school remotely activated the webcam on a student's computer last year because the district believed he "was engaged in improper behavior in his home," reports Philly.com. Harriton's assistant principal had confronted the student for "improper behavior" on November 11, citing as evidence a photograph taken by webcam.
As a parent, this story scares me. I spend a lot of time teaching my children the value of privacy and the importance of self-respect. The last entity I want to have to worry about crossing those lines is my school district.
What if someone from the school took a peek while a student was undressing? What if a student's laptop was left in Mom and Dad's room ... and the webcam caught them in a compromising position? This just boggles the mind.
In a statement on the school district's website, the superintendent said, "The laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. This feature has been deactivated, effective today."
Later, he added, "Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature would be activated by the District's security and technology departments. The security feature's capabilities were limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen. This feature was only used for the narrow purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever."
The moral of the story? Read the fine print on every permission slip you sign for your children. (Although, according to what was reported in court, there was no such clause in the student-laptop agreement that had been sent home with Lower Merion's students.)
Internet safety expert Lori Getz says, "It is never in the best interest of a school to become the cyber-police. We are here to educate our students and by purposely entering their home environment to catch them doing something wrong goes against the core of our pedagogy! When a problem related to the Internet is brought to the attention of the school because it affects a student, it gives the school an opportunity to look at this from an educational and developmental perspective. But schools must tread lightly, even students are entitled to their privacy!"
You would think a school district would be well-versed in the United States Constitution.
Fourth Amendment, people! Read it!
|Michelle Kemper Brownlow is a freelance parenting writer, artist and popular mommy blogger who holds nothing back at My Semblance of Sanity. Michelle's unique but gentle parenting insight, paired with her quirky sense of humor, works to her benefit as she writes and illustrates children's picture books.|