Harriton High School board busted for spying


Student-school relationships are a sensitive subject for both parties. In the Supreme Court case of New Jersey v. TLO, it was ruled that students have a lowered expectation of privacy while in school. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) states that student information cannot be given to a third party without the students consent.

Harriton High School of Lower Merion in Pennsylvania distributes Apple laptops to all of their students. On these laptops, students are expected to write papers and communicate with their peers about classes. The webcams on the laptops can be activated by the school if the computer is lost, so the location can be determined.

When 42 out of 2300 laptops went missing, Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko activated the webcams without informing the students or their parents. Blake Robbins, a sophomore at Harriton, was suspended based on inappropriate behavior observed over the webcam by Matsko.

Robbins and his family are suing the school district for invading his privacy at home. The school admitted that they activated webcams 42 times in the past 14 months for the sole purpose of finding the missing computers.

Schools do not have legal permission to enter a student’s home physically or electronically without a warrant, and any information obtained against Robbins would be useless in a court case.

Since the lawsuit was filed, students have been taping over the webcams and microphones on their computers to avoid being spied on by their teachers. Harriton student laptop-users have been quoted saying that the activation of the webcams was “bogus” and “an invasion of privacy.”

It was not stated in the contract that students are to sign before given a laptop that the webcam could be remotely activated while in the home of the user. According to Yahoo! News, Harriton’s district spokesman Doug Young was quoted, “It’s clear that what was in place was insufficient, and that’s unacceptable.”

The Wake County Public School System policy on student privacy states that students may use the internet and media resources provided by the school, but those rights can be revoked at any time by the administration in place. Section 6446.5 states that, “students shall have no expectation of privacy while using Wake County Public School System electronic information resources.”

Evan Neill, a senior at Harriton High School, says of the scandal, “The media has totally overhyped it. I don’t think the school is spying on me, and I don’t think they intended to catch the student doing bad things. But I agree with the parents that the school can’t use the evidence they got off the webcam as a basis to suspend the kid.”

Haley Reconnu, a sophomore at Leesville, feels that the activation of the webcams should not be allowed. “That is not okay. I think that it would be fine if the schools had told the students that they could activate the webcams at any time, but since the suspended student had no idea he was being watched, he shouldn’t have been suspended at all.”


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