When Did Schools Go Into the Stupid Business?

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Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I don’t mean to pile on, but how is this possible?lower merion

How did one (or several) school administrators think “This is a good idea”?

How is it that just when I think I’ve heard everything, something new and ignorant happens in education?


From PhilibrityLower Merion School District is involved in a lawsuit for spying on their students at home via school issued laptops.

Apparently, administrators secretly reserved the ability to remotely monitor the students’ clickstreams, email, turn on the laptops’ webcams and generally Big Brother the students’ privacy. This came to light when a student was disciplined at school for “improper behavior at home,” using a photo taken by the student’s webcam as evidence.

This brought about a class action lawsuit on behalf of the 1,800 Lower Merion students who were issued shady laptops by the school district. Here’s our verdict: On one hand, the school district has a responsibility to protect its students from general Internet creepery, but it goes without saying that watching school students via webcam without their knowledge makes anyone an internet creeper, be they school administrator or not.

That’s not to mention the gross violations of the students’ Fourth Amendment rights.

This brings up some interesting questions, like how many other well-to-do suburban school districts are engaged in such cyber-Orwellian practices and will they even get word considering this story’s under-reported nature in local mainstream media.


I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of schools doing this, but what do I know.  Up until I read this story, I didn’t figure any schools were doing something quite this insane.

This can’t help the cause to give students more access to technology (although the students don’t seem to be the problem…).

But wait, there’s more.  Now the FBI is involved (click HERE).

Maybe it’s me, but I’m just guessing it’s probably not a good time for the administrators to ask for a raise.

Thanks to a loyal reader of the Blog for emailing this story to me.  And maybe there’s more to the story.  Maybe it’s just a wacky misunderstanding.  Maybe.

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10 Responses to “When Did Schools Go Into the Stupid Business?”

  1. Karen Marcus
    on Feb 20th, 2010
    @ 9:36 am

    Right on again. I read this story and thought someone should put a webcam in those administratos’ homes. How often do we have to shoot ourselves in the foot??

  2. Diane
    on Feb 20th, 2010
    @ 11:07 am

    What drugs were the admins doing when they decided to do this? They deserve all that’s coming to them and more. You want to spy on my kids while they’re at school? Fine. I’m all for it as long as it’s for their safety. But spy on them while they’re at home? That’s perverted.

  3. Tom
    on Feb 20th, 2010
    @ 11:50 am

    I guess what saddens me the most is that I’m not shocked. This is what the educational system seems to have become. Those in positions of power, abuse it. So sad.

  4. Charlie A. Roy
    on Feb 20th, 2010
    @ 12:00 pm

    This story is interesting. If you read the superintendent’s letter it states the software was only used to try to locate lost or stolen laptops. The problem seems to be in not communicating the fact that this software was installed and would be part of the anti-theft strategies the district planned to employ. What is curious is if this is the only time the cameras were used what is the discipline issue regarding the student involved? Had he stolen a laptop? http://www.philly.com/philly/news/homepage/20100219_Student_claims_school_spied_on_him_via_computer_webcam.html
    I’m not sure. The above link claims as part of the story that even if the district had notified the users and family’s of the capabilities it would still violate the wire-tap laws as an invasion of privacy. Interesting issues all and all.

    I find all of these issues extremely interesting as my own school will be adopting a 1:1 program next year with Apple. In our case as a private school the families will lease to own the computers and are the property of the individual families not district / school property.

  5. jeff ralston
    on Feb 20th, 2010
    @ 12:46 pm

    what’s a ‘shady laptop’? something with a visor to reduce glare?

  6. Anthony D.
    on Feb 20th, 2010
    @ 6:54 pm

    I have a question? Isn’t the fact that its a school laptop that they have the right to enforce whatever policies they deem necessary to protect the integrity of the school. To make my point more clear there are Acceptable Use policies for staff and students while in school and using their equipment both hardware ie laptops and software ie the Interent. If you you were doing inappropriate things at school wouldn’t you be disciplined?

  7. David
    on Feb 21st, 2010
    @ 5:13 am

    I just think that if any school district is that desperate to prevent every loss or theft, they probably shouldn’t be in the 1:1 laptop business anyway. I’m personally glad the FBI is involved. The minute this district chose to intrude into a private home – regardless of the intent – they violated privacy rights as well as unreasonable search prohibitions. And, they probably would have still been on shaky grounds even if a warning was provided to parents and students ahead of time. My next question would be: What idiot commercial enterprise was consulting with this district on their program? I want to be sure my district never does business with them.

  8. Shahkhan
    on Feb 21st, 2010
    @ 3:50 pm

    If they disable the webcam. It can be turn on. Just duct tape the webcam.

  9. Angie
    on Feb 22nd, 2010
    @ 8:04 am

    Another item to add to the list of stupid decisions made by administrators. Two more I’ve heard of that led to lawsuits: strip-searching a girl for aspirin and putting security cameras in the girls’ locker room. How much control do we really need (or want) over students? Geesh!

  10. Peter Blaise
    on Feb 23rd, 2010
    @ 9:36 am

    It’s illegal to photograph someone’s private parts in private without their permission:


    … so, all anyone has to do it flash their private parts (or a centerfold-spread) in front of their computer’s camera, then the the so-called “legit spyers” are breaking the law if they continue to use the camera.

    Now show me a company or school that can get away with a unilateral contract that students or employees have to sign in order to use the laptop with camera saying that they pre-permit the school or employer to photograph the student’s or employee’s private parts in private so the school or employer can spy on the student or employee with impunity. “Sing here to give anyone on our staff permission to watch you or your children nude at home in private …”

    We gathered together to make a more perfect union for the people, of the people, by the people. Expecting someone to give up their privacy just to get a public education or to get and keep a job is inappropriate in any “land of the free”.

    However, with the current supreme court declaring corporations as first class citizens, effectively making the rest of us second class citizens, I guess we get what we paid for. Unless Obama is willing to stuff the supreme court with more than 9 justices, I doubt we’ll see personal, real-human freedoms and civil rights come front-and-center for a long, long time.

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