School officials settle webcam spying suit for $610,000

Deal seen bringing this inexplicable episode to a close

The Pennsylvania school district whose use of laptop spyware to photograph students in their homes caused a firestorm of protest from parents and privacy advocates - as well as worldwide headlines -- has agreed to settle related lawsuits for $610,000.

It should surprise no one that the vast majority of that sum, $425,000, will go to attorneys.

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From a statement issued by the Lower Merion School District:

A major impetus behind settling this matter now is the recent agreement by our insurance carrier, Graphic Arts, to cover more than $1.2M of the fees and costs associated with this litigation to date. The proposed settlement costs include $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Blake Robbins, $10,000 for Jalil Hassan and $425,000 for plaintiff's counsel.

Unfortunately, school officials couldn't resist using the settlement statement to hint that general perception of this appalling episode would be different if only all the facts were made public.

Although we 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. We also wanted to be sensitive to the welfare of the student involved in the case, given the possible ramifications of what would have been a highly-publicized trial.

It's difficult to imagine what "important, untold story" could materially change minds about what happened here ... and the mere suggestion that one exists is not be helpful.

Which isn't to say there haven't been benefits from what transpired. The school district has adopted new policies it says will ensure the privacy of students. And the enormous media attention paid to this case should serve as a cautionary tale to other officials.  

Finally, the Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed the young man, Blake Robbins, who will receive that $175,000 settlement. While most will go into a trust fund, he will receive $25,000 when all the paperwork is done and he intends to use a portion of that to buy "some nice used car."

Seems fair enough given what he's been through.

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