Two Cautionary Tales

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Man and woman peeking throughTwo recent legal cases present as cautionary tales concerning technology, civil rights, and the school’s role in loco parentis.

Evans v. Bayer involves a former student of Pembroke Pines (FL) Charter High School.  Katherine Evans created a Facebook account to express her dislike for a certain teacher at the high school. “But instead of other students expressing their dislike of the teacher,” writes Hannah Sampson of the Miami Herald, “most defended the teacher and attacked Evans.” Ms. Evans subsequently took down the Facebook page. Principal Peter Bayer later learned about the Facebook page and removed Ms. Evans from advanced placement classes and suspended her for three days.

Ms. Evans sued Principal Bayer for violating her civil rights under the 1st and 14th amendments, stating she had created the Facebook page after school, away from campus, using her computer.  The court agreed.

In  Blake J Robbins v. Lower Merion School District student Blake Robbins and his parents sued the Pennsylvania school district for “secretly viewing [the student] at home via webcams on school-issued laptops.” The district had issued all students at both its high schools laptop computers, each equipped with a built-in video camera.

According to a CBS News story, Harriton High School administrators accused Robbins of selling drugs and taking pills and stated they had images to prove it.  The student said the pictures show him eating candies.

Robbins and his parents allege that district employees, without parental knowledge or consent, remotely activated the camera on the student’s school-issued laptop and captured still images of family members in embarrassing and compromising situations.  The court issued an order prohibiting the district from “remotely activating, or causing to be remotely activated,” webcams on laptop computers issued to its students.  The case continues and you can follow it at Justia.com.

As school administrators, we need to take a lesson from both these cases.  Whether we’re dealing with how students are using technology or how we are using it ourselves, we need to clearly understand the limits of in loco parentis.

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