Casual Friday Wants To Know What You’re Doing Right Now

I used do substitute teaching in a couple different public school districts. During that time, I saw several, eh, let’s just call them “Fourth Amendment violations” against students. Heck, one time, I was reprimanded by an assistant principal who didn’t know of my education for not participating in one. (A calculator was missing. *gasp* Even though I knew the class in question couldn’t have taken it, I was told that I should have made them all empty their pockets and bags. For how much would you sell the U.S. Constitution? For that school district? A used $5 calculator.)

imageBut my school district has nothing on Lower Merion (Penn.) School District. That district apparently wanted to know what the students were doing outside of school.  So they gave students new laptop  computers with webcams. Score! Except the computers also had hidden software that allowed the district’s officials to spy on students and their families at home. [Courthouse News, via Above The Law].

The “breach” was discovered when a kid was punished for something he did at home and the assistant principal produced the evidence: a webcam photo [Courthouse News].

The complaint states: "On November 11, 2009, plaintiffs were for the first time informed of the above-mentioned capability and practice by the school district when Lindy Matsko (‘Matsko’), an assistant principal at Harriton High School, informed minor plaintiff that the school district was of the belief that minor plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff’s personal laptop issued by the school district.
     "Michael Robbins thereafter verified, through Ms. Matsko, that the school district in fact has the ability to remotely activate the webcam contained in a student’s personal laptop computer issued by the school district at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer.
     "Additionally, by virtue of the fact that the webcam can be remotely activated at any time by the school district, the webcam will capture anything happening in the room in which the laptop computer is located, regardless of whether the student is sitting at the computer and using it.
     "Defendants have never disclosed either to the plaintiffs or to the class members that the school district has the ability to capture webcam images from any location in which the personal laptop computer was kept."

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the school district. See the entire complaint here.

Flaky people need not apply: As one who spent a good portion of time in the not-so-distant past scouring employment ads, you can find some very interesting qualifiers listed aimed specifically to keep the honestly underqualified from applying. (How’d that work out for you? Still got 1,000 resumes?)

In the UK, some poor woman placed an ad with one qualifier: she wanted someone reliable. The posting site wouldn’t allow her to post the ad because it discriminated against unreliable candidates. [The Telegraph (UK)]

”I placed the advert on the website and when I phoned up to check I was told it hadn’t been displayed in the job centre itself," she said. ”She said ‘oh we can’t put that advert on the job points’. She said it was because they could have cases against them for discriminating against unreliable people.

”I laughed because I thought that was crazy. We supply the NHS with staff so it’s very important for the patients that we have reliable workers.

Who exactly this was going to dissuade from applying, I don’t know.

“I really need a job. Oh, here’s one for a domestic cleaner! I can clean a house like it’s nobody’s business!

“Wait a sec—aw geez. It says ‘must be reliable.’ I like to miss one day a week and being late for the rest of them. There goes that opportunity. You know, that’s crap. I’m calling my attorney!”

On the bright side, through this story, I learned that in the UK, they have something called the Campaign Against Political Correctness. Its website has a link called “Non-PC Nostalgia.”  Here we have Rush Limbaugh. They win.

Worst Idea Ever: Can one person/entity be all three? I don’t know. But some guy in Georgia has decided that the problem with the National Basketball Association is that there’s too much excitement and athleticism. (No, really!)

Meet Don “Moose” Lewis. He is trying to start a new professional league of 12 teams made up of only American-born, white players. Oh, but it’s not because he’s a racist. It’s just because white folk just love our fundamental basketball!

"There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing," he said. "I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like."

Lewis said he wants to emphasize fundamental basketball instead of "street-ball" played by "people of color."

No bigotry there at all.

But it’s not just about the fundamentals. White people apparently don’t want to go to games and have to worry about being flipped off or attacked in the stands.

"Would you want to go to the game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?" he said. "That’s the culture today, and in a free country we should have the right to move ourselves in a better direction."

One thing I know about white people, it’s that they NEVER flip off fans and they never attack fans.

If I can steal a joke from ESPN’s Bill Simmons, the league’s marketing slogan should be “Below the Rim.”* But I, for one, can’t wait. It will be interesting to see what it would look like if the WNBA was an all-male league.

[HT: Augusta Chronicle, via Legal Blog Watch, who already came up with some team names for this league. My suggestions? Moose’s hometown team should be called the Augusta Aryans. Other teams? The Columbia Cross Burners, and, of course, the Biloxi Bigots.]

For employment law attorneys and fans of The Office: Check out That’s What She Said, a blog that reviews each episode of The Office for employment law violations and assesses Dunder Mifflin’s (or should I say “Sab-re” ) liability for Michael Scott’s actions.

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In re: Freedom of speech in public schools and cyber-bullying

I’m almost ashamed to admit this,* but when I was a senior in high school, I was suspended for cursing.

I’m sure that you can relate: I was working on a class project, receiving little or no help from many in my group. As I was trying to do put the finishing touches on it, someone came in and started giving opinions about how I should have done it and why their way was better.

Being an emotionally immature 16-year old who was already annoyed with the lack of support I received on the project, I responded with a two-word phrase commonly heard on shows like The Sopranos. The teacher walked in just in time to hear it, yada yada yada, I had an unscheduled three-day vacation.

Why should you care, Reader of Michigan Lawyers Weekly?

Well, apparently I should have hired a lawyer (from The Detroit News):

Hart took the problem to the school’s vice principal and principal, who took it to a district administrator, who asked the district’s lawyers what they could do about it. In the end, citing "cyber-bullying" concerns, school officials suspended the girl who posted the video for two days. That student took the case to federal court, saying her free speech rights were violated.

Last month, a U.S. District judge in Los Angeles sided with the student, saying the school went too far.

In that case, a student** posted a video on YouTube calling another female middle school student a “brat” and “slut” and, of course, texted everyone they knew about it. The girl’s embarrassment led her to her guidance counselor’s office, which led to a chain of events in which the offender who posted the video was suspended.

Judge Steven V. Wilson wrote:

"To allow the school to cast this wide a net and suspend a student simply because another student takes offense to their speech, without any evidence that such speech caused a substantial disruption of the school’s activities, runs afoul (of the law)," judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote in a 60-page opinion.

"The court cannot uphold school discipline of student speech simply because young persons are unpredictable or immature, or because, in general, teenagers are emotionally fragile and may often fight over hurtful comments," he wrote.

“Cyber-bullying” has become a big issue of late as members of Congress and state legislatures are trying to make laws to regulate the effects of when the mean things kids say are amplified to a mass audience online.

In some cases, the subject hasn’t even been a student.

In Pennsylvania, a student sued his school district after he was suspended for 10 days and placed in an alternative education program for creating what he claimed was a parody MySpace profile of the school principal. On the Web site, the student referred to the principal as a "big steroid freak," and a "big whore," among other things, and stated that he was "too drunk to remember" the date of his birthday.

District Court Judge Terrence McVerry found that even though the profile was unquestionably "lewd, profane and sexually inappropriate," the school did not have the right to restrict the student’s speech because school officials were not able to establish that the profile caused enough of a disruption on campus.

"The mere fact that the Internet may be accessed at school does not authorize school officials to become censors of the world-wide web," he wrote.

That case is pending in the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

And another one in Florida:

In Florida, the ACLU sued a principal on behalf of a student who was suspended and removed from her honors class for "cyber-bullying." Katie Evans had created a Facebook page criticizing an English teacher as "the worst teacher I’ve ever met," and invited others to express their "feelings of hatred."

Her attorney, Matthew Bavaro, said the reach of the Web was irrelevant to whether a student is allowed to express themselves freely.

"The audience, whether it’s one person or 1 billion people, doesn’t change that Katie still had a First Amendment right," Bavaro said.

Opinions from courts and law professors seems to be unanimous:

Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert and law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has criticized a bill in Congress that would make cyber bullying punishable by as long as two years in prison [said,] "People don’t appreciate how much the First Amendment protects not only political and ideological speech, but also personal nastiness and chatter. … If all cruel teasing led to suicide, the human race would be extinct."

* “Ashamed” probably isn’t the right word. It’s not like I have sleepless nights about it.

** You probably won’t be surprised to find out that the case arises from Beverly Hills, California and that the attorney for the student who posted the video is her father. The girl was awarded $1 in damages and the suspension removed from her record.