You just knew it was coming. The Lower Merion School District approved a payment of $175,000 to the student who filed the class action against the school district over the laptop misuse and another $425,000 to his attorney. (No, solo plaintiffs attorneys seldom receive those kind of fees in civil rights cases). And all that after paying their own attorneys in excess of $1 million. (It is much more lucrative for the big Philly firms who bill hourly at $400/hour and up. Do you think the plaintiff and his attorney would not have jumped at two or three hundred thousand had it been offered at the outset without all the litigation?). Sadly, the entire fiasco could have been avoided with a clear policy and a simple consent form that even the high priced Philly lawyers should have been able to draft for about $1,000.
Consent is an absolute defense, and the only defense, to allegations of privacy violations. If the school district had developed a consent form notifying parents of the monitoring feature embedded in the laptops and advising them the device could be activated remotely, and then required parents to sign the consent form before the student could bring one home, the laptop program would not have made a headline outside of the school district’s newsletter. Schools routinely require consent forms before students are allowed to go on field trips. So why wouldn’t Lower Merion think a consent form was necessary for a laptop giveaway with spyware?
It certainly gives new meaning to the old saying that education is expensive.