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Lower Merion Staff Avoids Criminal Charges

Staff members at the Pennsylvania district accused of using Webcams built into its school laptops to take photos of a student in his home have been cleared of criminal conduct by the United States Attorney's Office. The news came in a statement issued by the office and published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"After a thorough review of the evidence,... I have concluded that bringing criminal charges is not warranted in this matter," said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger. "For the government to prosecute a criminal case, it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged acted with criminal intent. We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent."

The news came just as the district is preparing for its new school year, which comes with revised policies regarding its laptop program. The policies, adopted recently by the school board, were developed by a team that included consultants from SunGard Availability Services and members of the Technology Advisory Council (TAC) made up of parents, students, teachers, and community volunteers.

The biggest changes to the policy affect theft tracking, remote access, and the privacy of students' files on district laptops. The district will only access a student's computer with explicit written permission from parents and students. In the event that a computer needs repair, a student may choose to decline remote access and take the laptop directly to the school's IT center for repair. Theft tracking software will only be activated if a student and the parent file a police report and provide a signed "remote file access consent" form as well as a signed incident report to the principal verifying that a laptop has been lost or stolen. Theft tracking software on the computer will never have the capability of capturing screen shots, audio, video and on-screen text, the policy states. The policy also assigns responsibility to the student for reporting a lost or stolen laptop. A presentation on the policy states that many of the changes made "were simply stylistic or [involved] minor editing."

"We are very pleased with today's decision by the US Attorney's Office, which supports the findings of our internal investigation and follows last night's approval of new laptop policies by the school board," said district superintendent, Christopher McGinley.

Civil litigation continues. Two students have sued the district over claims of laptop "spying" by school personnel.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.