School Spying Case is Settled (And Yet, This is Just the Beginning…)

In case you were wondering whatever happened in that school district outside of Philly where 2,300 students were issued laptops that the administration then used to spy on the students in their homes, here’s the denouement, as reported on the Law & Disorder website:

The school district accused of spying on students at home via laptop webcam has agreed to settle two student lawsuits for a total of $610,000. The Lower Merion School District board of directors released a statement Tuesday morning, saying that it decided to settle in order to move on and “protect the interests of our taxpayers,” even if that meant not being able to share its own side of the story.

The webcam issue first came to light in February whenhigh school student Blake J. Robbins was disciplined by his assistant principal for engaging in “improper behavior” while at home—the evidence for which was apparently a photograph from the built-in webcam on his school-issued laptop. Once the Robbins family filed its class-action lawsuit against the district, the FBI began investigating the case as well to see whether the school had broken any federal wiretap laws.

Following a court order to preserve the webcam images from the district’s 2,300 student-issued laptops, the Robbins’ updated their claims, saying that the school took more than 400 photos of Blake in his room (some while he was “partially undressed”). Additionally, they said the school took “thousands” more pictures of other students in their homes, or in some case screenshots of private IM conversations.

And guess what else? The onlookers called the students’ lives a “soap opera” that they LOVED WATCHING.

Incredible. But that’s the end of this particular case. Why do I have the feeling it won’t be the last? Could it because of things like THIS STORY:  Two districts in Texas are using RFID tags — the same technology used to track cattle  — to track students? Supposedly this will help with “security.”

Whose? — Lenore

Why Big Brother “School Safety” Measures Aren’t Making Schools Safer

Hi Folks — Just read this Salon interview with Aaron Kupchik, author of “Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear.” It’s an eye-opening look at the law-and-order mindset at many high schools these days.  I really loved what Kupchik had to say, especially this comment about the wide-reaching effect of Zero Tolerance laws:

Why are they so detrimental?

KUPCHIK: We’re teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we’re doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It’s very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years.

Puts a new spin on “safety,” right? Especially when you read what he has to say about Columbine and the increase in security cameras and school police officers that tragedy prompted!

KUPCHIK: It’s also interesting that one of the ways that people try to prevent a “Columbine-like incident” — a phrase I heard frequently — is to put up surveillance cameras and put in SROs [School Resource Officers — security officers]. But they had both of those at Columbine. We can watch the surveillance footage of the police officers. Now, perhaps it would have been even more devastating if they had not been there; we’ll never know that. But it certainly didn’t prevent things from happening.

Wow! This blew my mind! So many times when we are told new precautions are “absolutely necessary” for security, we really have to think twice. Do we REALLY want school volunteers to have to undergo a background check — or does that cut down on the number of helping hands? Do we really need surveillance cameras everywhere?  Why? Are kids really safer when we don’t let dads go on camp-outs with Girl Scouts, when we make everyone sign their kid out of school in a time-consuming procedure, when we don’t let kids walk home on their own, when we prosecute parents who let their kids wait in the  car, when we put non-violent teens on the sex offender registry for life?  These are all new procedures bubbling up in this country, but whether they are making kids safer is questionable. Whether they are changing the tenor of society is not. — Lenore