Student Webcams, School Spying--and Snowballs

The Snapper came home from school and said, “Mom, the school is using our laptop web cams to spy on us.”

I said, “Where can I get one of those?” and he said, “they’re spying on you too.”


Turns out those laptops the school district so proudly distributed to all of the students two years ago have been activated the entire time to enable video capture from the student’s computer. And the kids have never noticed because they’re on video chat all the time—at least in my house. The Snapper has even participated in brownie baking via video conferencing, in addition to the study groups of course. So when the green lights comes on, all the kids assume it’s one of their friends logging on. Instead it’s the administration keeping tabs on the kids.

And on the parents. That laptop is open in our living room and dining room and kitchen all the time. George and I blanched thinking about it. He said, "The Snapper's never brought that into our bedroom, has he?" And I said no, but he had it on in his own bedroom.

I said, “This is an incredible invasion of privacy,” and the Snapper said, “That’s kind of like stealing, isn’t it?’

This is a school district that takes stealing very lightly. I know this because several years ago Wally had money stolen from his backpack and the Snapper had an MP3 player taken. Turns out there was a veritable ring going on at the school—an enterprising young man stole and then resold the MP3 players to students on a regular basis, sometimes back to the original owner.

I brought this up at a Home and School Association meeting and asked that, as a deterrence measure, the school install signs warning that thieves would be prosecuted. I was told that we couldn’t hang the signs because someone might think we had a theft problem. I said, “We do have a theft problem.” They said, “There’s really nothing that can be done.”

So I went to the athletic director because the backpacks had been in the sports locker room. He said, “We know who’s doing it and he’s not allowed to hang out after school anymore.”

Didn't sound very harsh to me, but then again I went to a Catholic high school.

I said, “If you know who it is, why not prosecute and send a message?” He said, “There’s really nothing that can be done.”

For the record, this is a school that, while it has no policy on theft, devotes a full paragraph to the prohibition of snowball throwing. I kid you not.

Now the school that will not hang signs prohibiting stealing has suddenly become concerned about theft. In an email sent to the parents in the school district, the School Superintendent wrote, “Laptops are a frequent target for theft in schools and off school property. District laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. The security feature, which was disabled today, 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.”

Ahh, so the administration was only monitoring the students to ensure their laptops were not being stolen! I’m sure glad they now have a theft policy in place, but in this case it’s the snowball policy that they really need, because they’ve just taken a big one to the face.

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