A group of Lower Merion School District parents asked a federal judge yesterday for a say in resolving the laptop spying lawsuit filed last month.
The parents want answers and privacy assurances about the use of cameras on district-issued student laptops, they said in a court filing. But they also want to avoid costly damage awards or a drawn-out class-action litigation with high legal fees, they said.
The motion was filed by three couples and their lawyers, all members of a group called lmsdparents.org, which formed several weeks ago to get parents "a seat at the table," Michael Boni, one of the attorneys, said yesterday. About 460 parents of students at the district's two high schools have joined the organization. The lawyers are working for free.
The family of Harriton High School sophomore Blake Robbins sued Feb. 16, contending Robbins was confronted by a school official with a photo taken in his home by a district laptop. The suit has sparked national attention and an FBI investigation into whether privacy and wiretap laws were violated.
The Robbinses' suit, the filing said, "places them in conflict with [other district parents'] interests in minimizing the costs to resolve the underlying webcam issues, without sacrificing the need for a full accounting" of how the district used the cameras.
It also noted that no other students or parents had come forward to say they had been treated like Robbins.
The filing says that even if there is a quick settlement to the case, parents want the school district to permanently disable the technology that enabled it to activate student Web cams, and to come up with an alternative way of tracking missing laptops.
The district has said the theft-tracking system, activated 42 times this school year, has already been disabled, but it has not said if the system will be used again, the motion said.
The parents also want to have the district appoint a "public advocate" to review Web-cam use and report to the public, the motion said. The district has hired Center City lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer to represent it in the case and to conduct an investigation, but "the internal investigators are wearing too many hats" to properly represent parents' interest, the parents' group said in a statement yesterday.
The group is also asking for new policies to be put in place to protect student privacy and spell out how the district may use Web-cam technology. It is not seeking monetary damages, Larry D. Silver, one of the parent-attorneys, said during a telephone news conference yesterday.
"We want a positive resolution to this," he said. "We want our school district to be healthy. Remember, the school district teaches our kids; we want it to get back to its educational mission as quickly and positively as possible."
The Robbins family and school district have two weeks to respond to yesterday's motion. The Robbinses' lawyer, Mark S. Haltzman, did not respond to a request for comment.
District spokesman Douglas Young said in a statement: "We agree that it is in the best interest of our community to have all the facts. As soon as the investigation is complete, we will share the findings with the public."
In a related development yesterday, a lawyer for Carol Cafiero, a Lower Merion district information systems coordinator, asked the court to put on hold a subpoena by Haltzman seeking her testimony in the Robbins suit and asking for documents related to the Web-cam system.
Charles D. Mandracchia, Cafiero's attorney, called the subpoena "premature" and pointed out that the district and the Robbinses had recently signaled they were open to resolving the dispute. Cafiero, who has been placed on paid leave, does not have access to the district's records, he said.
Haltzman said in a filing yesterday that Cafiero's deposition was necessary to "answer the "who, what, why, when, and where" questions on the use of the district's "spying software."