I have been reading a lot about the computer-snooping issue going on in Lower Merion. The school was using a technology that was inappropriate for the use they supposedly intended. It is my opinion, shared by others that the school fully meant to catch students committing crimes and tried to pass it off as anti-theft. As a comment posted to one article stated on NPR, a simple, inexpensive GPS unit installed in the laptops would have been able to locate a stolen computer if needed. There is no question in my mind that the school was attempting to pry into the student's private lives in a misguided effort to thwart criminal behavior.
That being said, the real issue here is the line where a student's school lives cross over into their private lives. I remember a situation when my son was in the 5th grade and was admonished for putting something on his MySpace page. He made some reference to illegal activities and it was found by the school and he was disciplined for it. Needless to say he was incensed that the school would interfere with his personal life. His feeling was that he was not in school, it was not the school’s page, and he was not using school property to post that missive. He felt that the school had no right to question anything he did after school hours.
It was the school’s opinion, and ours as well, that as a student of that school, he was a representative of the school even outside of school hours.
I believe that Lower Merion School District was trying to prevent their students from putting the school in a bad light. They deliberately employed the use of the webcams to do accomplish that goal, and then they tried to cover it up by saying they were trying to locate stolen laptops. They probably assumed the average person would be clueless enough to believe them.
In whatever role we play, we represent others as well as ourselves. We represent our parents, our children, our employers, or even our home city. Over the centuries people have been sensitive to criticism from others that tarnish our “good name”. People do care whether they admit it or not, what others say about them and it’s very important that they are accepted. Young teens are very sensitive to how the world views them and always looking for approval of their peers. It subsides a little when we mature, but not by much, in my opinion.
Is there a line crossed or not? That is a difficult question to answer. I think the school definitely went over the line in the manner in which they tried to save their reputation. Ironically, their actions to maintain their status have caused the biggest stain on their name ever.