L. Merion school board changes webcam surveillance policies

LOWER MERION, Pa. - August 16, 2010

It began so tumultuously when the webcam controversy first exploded in the Lower Merion School District, but tonight as the school board adopted new policies aimed at protecting students privacy, there was barely anyone there as the vote came.

As had been largely expected, the board revised its laptop policies and banned all webcam surveillance and other intrusive technology to secretly monitor students through their school issued laptops.

"We've made sure that everyone is aware of those practices and there are some new policies to further safeguard the privacy of our students," Lower Merion School District Superintendent Christopher McGinley said.

The changes were approved in the wake of lawsuits filed by two high school students and their parents who alleged they were secretly being spied on by school officials without their knowledge.

That's something the school district denies saying the practice was aimed at finding missing or stolen laptops.

Under the revised policies, if a student believes his or her laptop is missing or stolen, the student and parents must give written consent before officials activate tracking technology to locate the laptops.

At no time will school employees be allowed to access students' files and documents stored in their laptop unless there is reasonable suspicion the student may be violating district rules and policies.

"Students themselves have decisions to make about who accesses content on laptops and how that access occurs and there are important procedures in place to document how that access occurs," McGinley said.

Meanwhile, a federal investigation looking into possible criminal wrongdoing continues and two district employees remain on administrative leave.

As the new policies take effect this fall, high school students will not be issued laptops until later in September to allow everyone a chance to get up to speed on the new polices.

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