Monday, July 2, 2012

Lower Merion captures many Black students on secret laptop surveillance, Williams and Hasan took it to court

Many Black students captured by secret school laptop surveillance, these two did something about it

In 2010, the nation and international community learned that Lower Merion School District high school students were issued laptops with surveillance capabilities and many unsuspecting students had photographs and web camera shots taken of them, friends and family members by District staff; many shots of students in private settings and circumstances. The Robbins family pursued a class action lawsuit to address the surveillance of their son, Blake; eventually winning the lawsuit against the school district and receiving a $175,000 settlement. The community got massive computer policy and practice reform to the District’s one-to-one laptop program. At least nine of the 36 surveillance students were African American. Feeling horrifically violated, two filed lawsuits against the District.

Keron Williams v. LMSD
Keron neither lost his laptop nor told school authorities of it missing as was reported by the District during the Robbins v. Lower Merion School District lawsuit. Keron was among the students who had secret, remote photographs and screenshots taken of them. Yes, he saw the green light come on his laptop many times but casted his suspicions aside as unwarranted paranoia, never suspecting he was being studied by school staff or that nearly 1,000 photographs and screenshots were taken--many while he was in his bedroom.

Keron was 16 years old, enrolled in honors courses and doing well, never a school discipline problem, had perfect attendance, and had been recently awarded the Boy Scouts of America’s highest ranking honor as an Eagle Scout.

At first, Keron thought he could emotionally handle the violation but then realized he struggled to live with an invasion and assault on his sensibilities and reputation, not to mention he did not lose the computer or report it stolen. Keron’s family suspects that the district spied on Keron with motivations that had nothing to do with losing a computer. Around the time of the surveillance, Keron was escorted by campus police to the principal’s office and told to empty his pockets and his backpack contents were checked. Finding nothing but his Boy Scout Eagle scarf in his pockets and little else in the backpack besides school related stuff, he was allowed to return to class. He would learn later that a white female student complained that a black male with a hoodie and a skateboard took a something belonging to her.  Whether an actual item was taken from this young lady or not, Keron was wrongfully suspected. Then the surveillance camera was turned on and stayed on for months Robbins lawsuit forced its termination. The story ends with a lawsuit filed against the District and a settlement dollar amount that was a drop in the bucket compared to the Robbins’s receipt of $175,000 or the trauma.

Jalil Hasan v. LMSD
Shortly after graduating from Lower Merion High School in 2010, Jalil and his mother filed a civil suit against the Lower Merion School District. Jalil forgot his computer in a classroom on a Friday and received it back on a Monday. Yet the remote surveillance was made active and left running for weeks and 469 photos and 543 screen shots later. They included bedroom shots and pics of family and friends.

Fatima Hassan, Jalil’s mother seen here in photo with him, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she relocated to Lower Merion for its reputable schools, “I sent Jalil to Lower Merion High with the idea that he would be in a safe environment, and that’s what you care about most as a parent. But then, when I’m looking at these pictures and I’m looking at these snapshots, I’m feeling like, ‘Where did I send my child?’” Both the Hasans and Robbinses’ where represented by Mark Haltzman. Jalil received a settlement amount of $10,000 and Mr. Haltzman received about $419,000 for both plaintiff’s legal fees to be paid by the school district and its insurance carriers