LMSD Questions & Answers regarding laptop allegation

Lower Merion School District responded to some of the questions regarding the recent privacy allegations regarding student laptops. the superintendent Christopher W. McGinley said the following:

Updated February 19, 2010

1. Did an assistant principal at Harriton ever have the ability to remotely monitor a student at home? Did she utilize a photo taken by a school-issued laptop to discipline a student?

  • No. At no time did any high school administrator have the ability or actually access the security- tracking software. We believe that the administrator at Harriton has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family. The district never did and never would use such tactics as a basis for disciplinary action.

2. How were the decisions made to develop the original security plan? Were there/are there safeguards in place to ensure student privacy with regard to use of the security application?

  • Concerned about the security of district-owned and issued laptops, the security plan was developed by the technology department to give the District the ability to recover lost, stolen or missing student laptops. This included tracking loaner laptops that may, against regulations, have been taken off campus.
  • Only two members of the technology department could access the security feature.

3. Were students and families explicitly told about the laptop security system?

  • No. There was no formal notice given to students or their families. The functionality and intended use of the security feature should have been communicated clearly to students and families.

4. How many thefts have there been? How many times was the system used? What have been the results in terms of recovery of computers?

  • During the 2009-10 school year, 42 laptops were reported lost, stolen or missing and the tracking software was activated by the technology department in each instance. A total of 18 laptops were found or recovered. This number (18) is an updated number given the information we have compiled today.

5. What was the total cost of implementation of the laptop program?

  • The approximate cost of each laptop is $1,000 and during the two years of the program, there were 2,620 laptops purchased.

6. How was funding obtained for the laptop program?

  • Laptops were purchased using a combination of district funds and and Classrooms for the Future grants.

7. When was the district notified of the allegations contained in the lawsuit?

  • The district learned of the allegations Thursday, February 18th. No complaints were received prior to this date. The district’s initial response was posted on the district webpage and communicated to students and parents the same day. The district will not be commenting on the specifics of the plaintiff’s complaint, however, outside the legal process.

8. In the future, will students be required to use district issued laptops?

  • The district believes students received significant benefit from the one-to-one laptop program and has no intention of discontinuing the program.

9. Is remote access activity by the district logged?

  • Yes. There is a log entry for every instance of the security feature activation. The logs will be reviewed as part of the special review conducted under the direction of special outside counsel.

10. Can parents return currently issued laptops to the district at this time?

  • They can, but we note that the laptops are an integral component of the educational program in the district. The security feature has been deactivated and there is no reason to be concerned about the use of the laptop on campus or at home.

11. Did the district remotely access any laptops which were not lost, missing or stolen?

  • No.

12. Are students allowed to cover the camera on their school issued laptops with tape?

  • Yes. There is no requirement that a student use the camera’s standard webcam feature.

FAQs Posted February 18

1. Why are webcams installed on student laptops?

  • The Apple computers that the District provides to students come equipped with webcams and students are free to utilize this feature for educational purposes.

2. Why was the remote tracking-security feature installed?

  • Laptops are a frequent target for theft in schools and off school property. The security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student.

3. How did the security feature work?

  • Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District’s security and technology departments. The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator’s screen. This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

4. Do you anticipate reactivating the tracking-security feature?

  • Not without express written notification to all students and families.
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