Lower Merion seeks lessons and an accounting

What if your company-owned laptop were being used in this way? And what if it caught you enjoying something other than the delicious taste of candy?
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

Lower Merion, you're probably saying to yourself. I know that name, but where?

Probably from the case of Blake Robbins. The Webcam on the 16 year old's free Mac laptop caught him in February, popping what he says were Mike and Ike's candie. (Fruit-flavored little sugar bombs shaped like pills and made in the USA.)

(They're not in stores everywhere but Best Buy Candy will ship you a 4.5 bag of these treats for just $14.95.)

The lawsuit involves how he got caught. Were school officials watching kids through their own Webcams, snapping snaps of what they thought were crimes, even in the kids' own bedrooms? And then expecting to convict and punish kids for those "crimes," based on webcam photos?

Since the TV cameras left this salacious story, courts and parents have been trying to pick up the pieces. A parents' group formed, with the aim of learning just what happened and minimizing the costs of a lawsuit.

The Robbins are talking settlement, and this concerns the parents' group. It might shut down fact-finding. They want a public advocate to give them a full accounting of the program. They want policies in place so this doesn't happen again.

That may be hard to get. Carol Cafiero, the information systems coordinator said to be at the center of the dispute took the Fifth after failing to get her subpoena quashed. Civil and criminal investigations are getting in each others' way.

The school district has promised an accounting, but parents fear a whitewash. The local district attorney wants to know if a crime has occurred, and that tends to have a chilling effect.

It's obvious that the school district would like this case to go away. But this is about more than the Lower Merion schools, and whether that really was the delicious taste of famous Mike-n-Ike's young Robbins was enjoying.

It's about how much power we will have over kids in a connected age. It's about whether school laptops are going to be an aid to learning or just another way to spy on kids. It's about setting limits, on both sides, covering the use and possible abuse of technology.

Laptops keep getting cheaper. Even the iPad starts at $500. A netbook can be had for $300. All support WiFi, most support Webcams. This is very useful for creating and delivering homework.

But it's a two-way connection, and if you own the PC in question you may feel a right to control its environment. Taking this outside 10th grade, what if your company-owned laptop were being used in this way? And what if it caught you enjoying something other than the delicious taste of candy?

This is a learning moment, in the end, and we need to get the lesson right.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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