Sick school district admits wrongdoing

When a government organization settles a lawsuit, can we just start saying they’re admitting wrongdoing? If they thought they were going to win, they would try. For example, Lower Merion School District knew it was going to lose a case since it was in the wrong, so the district effectively admitted as much when they settled a case of spying on underage students.

A Philadelphia-area school district agreed Monday to pay $610,000 to settle two lawsuits over secret photos taken on school-issued laptops.

The Lower Merion School District admitted it captured thousands of webcam photographs and screen shots from student laptops in a misguided effort to locate missing computers.

Harriton High School student Blake Robbins, then 15, charged in an explosive civil-rights lawsuit filed in February that the district used its remote tracking technology to spy on him inside his home. Later evidence unearthed in the case showed that he was photographed 400 times in a two-week period, sometimes as he slept in his bedroom, according to his lawyer, Mark Haltzman.

The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins and $10,000 for a second student who filed suit, Jalil Hassan. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.

The district often did this in an effort to figure out where lost laptops were located. That would be fine if they did it with simple GPS units – after informing students and parents – but that isn’t the method they chose. Instead they decided to go with turning on webcams. What’s worse, they went about falsely accusing students of things they illegally saw them doing.

According to his suit, Robbins learned of the practice when a Harriton vice principal cited a laptop photo in telling him that the school thought he was engaging in improper behavior. Robbins told reporters the school had mistaken candy he was seen eating for drugs.

I’m entirely against a school punishing a student for any illegal activity that takes place outside school which does not directly affect anyone else at school while at school, but this is above and beyond that. The school thought it would be okay to illegally obtain images which they would illegally view and then illegally punish students for what they saw. Have these people no common sense?

I’m glad this district is out $600K. Maybe they can add this incident to their civic and government courses.

Oh, and there’s this unsurprising tidbit:

The district is no longer using the tracking program.

Hey, look at that

I’ve said in the past that one of the most powerful tools in philosophy is the thought experiment. As it so happens, even the U.S. military seems to agree with me, specifically teaching the classic trolley problem to West Point students.

These cadets are being taught to make moral decisions for themselves, not to follow rules blindly. There are risks in creating a generation of philosopher-­soldiers. One instructor I spoke to, Major Danny Cazier, acknowledged this but told me that “the pay-off is too high to pass on.” He says it is vital that when soldiers are in a terrifying battlefield situation, they don’t lose sight of “the fundamental principles that a person believes in, and which guide his actions. And those principles need to have been conditioned by considerations like the trolley problem.” The cadets agree. They’ll soon head off to perform their duty—the trolley problem is heading to Kandahar.

PZ is full of good quotes

Really, just go read his post:

I’ve been told to hush, there are good Christians who support science, and a vocal atheism will scare them away…and I have to ask, you question my support for science education, when you pander to people who you admit will put their superstitions above science if someone says a harsh word about Jesus?

The sanity of secularism

From PZ:

There is an answer, and it’s on display right here in this room. The solution, the only longterm solution, is the sanity of secularism. The lesser struggles to keep silly stickers off our textbooks or to keep pseudoscientific BS like intelligent design out of our classrooms are important, but they are endless chores — at some point we just have to stop pandering to the ideological noise that spawns these unending tasks and cut right to the source: religion.

I’m back

And comments are back to normal.

Thought of the day

I love movies. As such I’d like to hear about a few really good ones people have seen recently. Go.

(Comment moderation is now off.)

Starts With A Bang

Starts With A Bang is yet another great offering from Its author’s posts are always excellent and easily worth my time. (That author being Ethan Siegel, by the way.) I added the link to my blogroll last week and that turned out to be a very good decision. I’ve been going to his site more frequently as a result and learning quite a bit in a short period of time. Definitely check it out.