I DON'T HAVE much in common with the folks in Lower Merion, who still seem to be in an uproar about those webcams allegedly used to spy on students. But I've been following the stories with interest, and one of the issues in the case became clearer to me the other day as I was preparing to do some volunteer work in West Philly.
That's when my friend walked in and announced, "Sorry I'm late. I was in a car accident."
Me: "Oh my God, are you OK?"
My goddaughter: "Was it your fault or the other guy's?"
My friend assured us she was fine, and explained that she was driving down 52nd Street a little after noon and saw union workers giving out fliers on the median. She was approaching a yellow light, so instead of speeding up to beat it, she slowed down so she could get a flier. She'd actually come to a full stop as the light turned red, but the car behind her didn't quite.
Me: "Thank goodness you're OK!"
My goddaughter: "Oh great, you got a case!
That exchange made me think about suing, and of course that included the events in Lower Merion. I thought that if the allegations were true, the school district should definitely be taken to task. As a child of the '60s, I'm always on the lookout for instances where "Big Brother" might be "Watching."
But at the same time, I'm just not sure that a lawsuit is the way to go. Yes, a part of me says, make them pay, but another part asks: Who would actually be paying? And why?
Back to my friend and her accident.
My friend: "I'm not planning on suing. I wasn't hurt, and my car wasn't damaged. I was wearing a seat belt, so the only thing that happened was my car was pushed into the intersection. . . So there's no problem."
My goddaughter: "But since you got hit from the back you could have whiplash. I'm telling you, you have a case."
My friend: "What I have is health insurance. If I start getting the symptoms of whiplash, I'll go to the doctor. The guy who hit me was in the wrong, but he seemed like a nice guy. He was really sorry."
My goddaughter: "You're crazy."
My friend: "You're a money-hungry jerk."
Now might be the time to add that my friend is unemployed, owes back rent and is in danger of having her electricity turned off. Could she have used the money that might be won in an insurance settlement? Heck, yeah! But she's one of those people who believes you shouldn't profit from others' misfortunes.
Had she, for even an instant, believed that the guy plowed into her because he was mad that she hadn't taken the light, it might have been another matter. Maliciousness should be punished. Mistakes? Well . . . if there was no harm done, maybe a mistake should be forgiven.
Which brings us back to the Lower Merion School District case.
If Harriton High School actually gave its students laptop computers with webcams for the surreptitious purpose of spying on them, maybe they should be monetarily punished. If it was simply the action of an overzealous administrator of the program, then appropriate disciplinary action should be taken and procedures put in place to ensure it never happens again - and maybe leave it at that.
Because if a lawsuit is lost, it's ultimately the people in the school district who will be paying - it's their tax dollars which will be used to pay any damages.
If maliciousness was involved, then maybe that's exactly what should happen. Maybe the fact that the residents will ultimately be paying will make them scrutinize the school district's actions more closely to make sure it never happens again.
But the fact that the idea of a class-action lawsuit against the district came up so quickly, before the full investigation into the matter was even started, reminds me of mind-set of my goddaughter. Payday! (Thank goodness there's now a countermovement by a group of irate parents.)
So my friend is no longer just my friend: She's a role model.
My goddaughter is still my goddaughter, but she's kind of a money-hungry jerk.
The parents filing the premature lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District?