Many of the Lower Merion district high school parents who met last night to figure out how to respond to a lawsuit over alleged laptop spying agreed they want a say in the process.
About 150 people gathered at Narberth Borough Hall to discuss whether they could and should join together to influence the litigation and oppose its becoming a class action.
Bryn Mawr resident Michael Boni, a group founder and a lawyer, said that unless a way was found to resolve the laptop lawsuit without lengthy legal proceedings, the cost to the district could run "into the millions."
Boni and three other district parents - Larry Silver, Tom Grady and Bob Wegbreit - formed a group called lmsdparents.org to figure out ways to avoid having the suit filed last month by Harriton High School sophomore Blake Robbins and his parents become a drawn-out and costly class action. Hundreds more have signed their online petition.
Silver said he wanted the meeting to answer three questions: Did the parents want the Robbins family representing them? How could a "gag order" agreement that district officials and school board members would not talk about the case without consulting the Robbinses and their lawyer be lifted? And how could parents get all the facts about what actually happened with laptops and Web cams?
Boni said that the best way "to get us a place at the table" was for a group of parents to ask the federal judge handling the case to let them intervene.
Many parents were receptive. Steven Ludwig, father of a ninth grader, said most parents agree it was "not a good idea to sue first and ask questions later. . . . There are many parents who don't stand with the family that has chosen to sue."
Justin McCarthy said that parents "have a huge interest here. We want to intervene to protect ourselves. . . . I want parents to have a voice."
The Robbins family, in a statement e-mailed by attorney Mark S. Haltzman before the meeting, said they welcomed the parents' involvement but were disappointed that Haltzman was not asked to address the meeting.
Wegbreit responded: "If he wants to host a meeting of his own, that would be fine."
Haltzman added that he has "a continued willingness to discuss the issues raised at the meeting . . . with the goal of quickly determining the extent to which the students' privacy rights were violated so that the litigation can be promptly concluded."
The lawsuit says that Blake Robbins was confronted in November by a high school assistant principal with a picture taken of him at home by his school-issued laptop's Web cam that she said showed "improper behavior." It contends that the district could remotely activate Web cams to spy on users.
The district says Web cams were used only to recover stolen or missing computers and took only still pictures of what was in front of the Web cam and an image of the laptop's screen.
The suit seeks certification as a class action, which has not yet been granted by a judge, who must decide if there are common facts or legal questions shared by the people in the potential class, the district high school students and their parents. Also, the Robbins family's claims must be typical of class members, and it must be showed that they and their lawyers will "fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class."
Boni said it must also be showed that a class action is the best way to resolve the dispute. "We will argue that there are other ways to go," he said.