A Pennsylvania school district that was accused of spying on students through the webcams on school-issued laptops has agreed to pay $610,000 to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of two high school students.
The school board of the Lower Merion School District approved the settlement Monday night. Under the agreement, $175,000 will be placed in a trust for Blake Robbins and $10,000 would be given to Jalil Hassan, who joined the lawsuit filed by Robbins' parents. The Robbins' attorney would receive $425,000 for legal fees.
"We believe this settlement enables us to move forward in a way that is most sensitive to our students, taxpayers and the entire school district community," board President David Ebby said in a statement released Tuesday. "The agreement is comprehensive, and effectively resolves all components of the laptop litigation."
Ebby said that although the district would have "valued the opportunity to finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom, we recognize that in this case, a lengthy, costly trial would benefit no one."
"It would have been an unfair distraction for our students and staff and it would have cost taxpayers additional dollars that are better devoted to education," he said.
In August, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger declined to file charges against the school district, saying that while mistakes were made, no crimes were committed. The district has acknowledged making mistakes in the use of the webcams and has apologized.
Robbins' parents, Michael E. Robbins and Holly S. Robins, sued the Montgomery County district in February for invasion of privacy. The complaint said an assistant principal at Harriton High School had told Blake Robbins that the district believed he "was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in [his] personal laptop issued by the school district."
A subsequent investigation by the district found nearly 58,000 webcam photos and screen shots in its databases, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Some of the images included photos of Blake Robbins sleeping and partially undressed. In addition, there were screenshots of the teenager participating in video chats with friends.
The school district's internal investigation found no evidence that employees were spying on students, the newspaper said. However, despite knowing that Blake Robbins had the laptop in his possession, they activated the tracking software and left it running for two weeks.
The school board has tightened policies governing the use of technology in light of the scandal, prohibiting school employees from remotely accessing students' computers without the permission of students or parents.