The computer-snooping controversy in Lower Merion schools took a new twist last night as a lawyer claimed that a school official told his 15-year-old client that his school laptop contained evidence - both pictures and words - that he might be dealing drugs.
"She called him into the office and told him, basically, 'I've been watching what was on the Web cam and saw what was in your hands,' " lawyer Mark S. Haltzman said in an interview. " 'I've been reading what you've been typing, and I'm afraid you are involved in drugs and trying to sell pills.' "
Haltzman, who represents 15-year-old Blake Robbins and his parents in their controversial invasion-of-privacy suit against the Lower Merion School District, alleged that Lindy Matsko, assistant vice principal at Harriton High School, first contacted Michael and Holly Robbins in November and then called their son in.
The parents told school officials that they were mistaken, Haltzman said, and Blake was not disciplined. The lawyer said the family decided to sue only after a counselor told them that an account of the incident had been placed in Blake's school file.
Haltzman's new allegations - some of which go further than the broad language of the suit he filed last week - came on a day that began with Matsko angrily denying as "outrageous" any suggestion that she used school computers to spy on Robbins in his home.
Matsko's lawyer could not be reached for comment last night on Haltzman's latest allegations. School district spokesman Douglas Young said he could not comment because of the pending suit, which has prompted an FBI investigation into whether district officials violated wiretap and privacy laws.
Matsko trembled with anger yesterday morning as she stood in her lawyers' Center City office and said "many falsehoods and misperceptions" had been aired regarding her role.
She said she had two teenage sons and would be as furious if laptops were used to look in on them. "If I believed anyone was spying on either of my children in my home," Matsko said, "I, too, would be outraged."
Hours later, the response was delivered by a jacketless 15-year-old Blake Robbins, reading a lawyer's script in the shivering cold, yards from his parents' snow-piled Penn Valley driveway.
Matsko, who is in her 25th year working for the school district, took no questions after reading her six-minute statement.
"At no time have I ever monitored a student via a laptop Web cam," said Matsko, her voice occasionally swelling and quavering, "nor have I ever authorized the monitoring of a student via a laptop Web cam, either at school or in the home. And I never would."
Robbins, a Harriton sophomore, stood surrounded by his family and Haltzman as he read a statement on Haltzman's letterhead that praised Matsko as "a good educator and a good person" before alleging that she had, in effect, snooped.
"Ms. Matsko does not deny that she saw a Web-cam picture and screenshot of me in my home," said Robbins, a blue-jeaned, slight teenager with brown bangs. "She only denies that she is the one who activated the Web cam."
Last night, a reporter asked Haltzman why the suit did not specifically allege that Matsko had cited what Blake Robbins had typed on his laptop.
"I do not have the [lawsuit] complaint in front of me," Haltzman replied by e-mail. "But I recall that Blake has stated during interviews that Matsko stated to him that [she] had seen a picture of him and what he had been typing on the screen."
Why hadn't the family gone to law-enforcement authorities? "Their thinking was, back in November, to just let it go," said Haltzman, who has described the photo snapped by the school laptop camera as merely showing Blake Robbins with his favorite candy, Mike & Ike. "Blake protected himself by putting tape over the spot on the Web cam."
Then, he said, the family learned that the episode "was in his file. . . . That's the part that got them outraged."