School District Settles WebcamGate

Settlement worth more than $600,000

By Dan Stamm
|  Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010  |  Updated 8:48 AM EDT
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Blake Robbins holds up the school-issued MacBook computer, the same computer he alleges school officials activated his webcam to spy.

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Lower Merion School District has settled the webcam case that made national headlines after students accused school officials of spying by using the webcam installed on school-issued laptops.

The School District Board approved a $610,000 settlement Monday night.

Board President David Ebby explained on the district website why they settled:

We believe this settlement enables us to move forward in a way that is most sensitive to our students, taxpayers and the entire school district community. The agreement is comprehensive, and effectively resolves all components of the laptop litigation, including the Robbins and Hasan cases and the Graphic Arts insurance case. It is the product of a lengthy, court-ordered mediation involving the active participation of Judge DuBois and Chief Magistrate Judge Reuter. The terms of the agreement have been thoroughly reviewed in a number of executive sessions over the past few weeks. Throughout the entire process, the Board has aggressively sought to protect the interests of our taxpayers.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI and the Montgomery County District Attorney cleared the District, and its employees - current and former -- of any criminal wrongdoing. That was an important moment for us -- it confirmed the results of an independent investigation and the District's own initial findings. The District acknowledged and apologized for any mistakes and addressed them immediately. We revised our policies and procedures, reaffirmed our commitment to technology and put safeguards into place to ensure the privacy of our students, staff and school families.

Ebby claimed that a recent insurance agreement played a large part in the timing of the settlement:

A major impetus behind settling this matter now is the recent agreement by our insurance carrier, Graphic Arts, to cover more than $1.2M of the fees and costs associated with this litigation to date. The proposed settlement costs include $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Blake Robbins, $10,000 for Jalil Hassan and $425,000 for plaintiff's counsel. This settlement is not under seal because as a public entity, we have a responsibility to report all terms of the agreement.

Back in February investigators began to look into WebcamGate after Harriton High School student Blake Robbins and his parents filed a lawsuit accusing officials of remotely taking video and photos through Robbins’ school-issued MacBook.

As many as 1,800 Lower Merion School District students from Lower Merion and Harriton High Schools were given the MacBook notebooks as part of a school program. 

The case gained national attention and put into question Harriton’s and Lower Merion’s laptop program.

 


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