School Board Notes • February 5, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI No. 26

‘Big Brother’ Laptop Bill Sent to Governor

The Assembly recently passed legislation dubbed the "Anti-Big Brother Act" that would require schools to notify parents whenever laptops or other electronic devices can track or view children through remote cameras. The bill, S-2057, now heads to the governor’s desk. The governor has 45 days to approve the bill.

The Senate had unanimously passed the bill in October, and the Assembly passed it on Jan. 28 by a vote of 63-10, with two abstentions. 

Pennsylvania Incident The bill was in response to an incident in Lower Merion, Pa., where the school district provided students with laptops that had webcams that the school remotely activated. News outlets learned of the district’s laptops after parents said the school had investigated their child for possible drug involvement, and a school official told the parents about a photo the laptop took when the student was in his bedroom. The parents said the school mistook candy for pills. School officials, who acknowledged they did not clearly explain the district's policy, claimed the cameras were only remotely activated to find missing computers.

New Jersey’s "Anti-Big Brother Act" would require school districts that furnish a student with a laptop, cell phone or other electronic device to provide written or electronic notice to the parent that the device may record or collect information on the student's activity, or the student's use of the device if it is equipped with a camera, a global positioning system, or another feature capable of recording or collecting information. The school district must obtain the parent’s acknowledgement that they received the notification.

A school district that fails to provide the notification required by the bill would be subject to a fine of $250.

NJSBA Amendments Legislators incorporated NJSBA-proposed amendments that called for making the bill apply to charter schools. Lawmakers also agreed with NJSBA’s suggestion that the bill be enacted on the first of July following the date it is signed into law, rather than the 60 days stipulated in a previous version of the bill. This would provide schools time to better prepare for the changes.

Although legislators did not remove the provision calling for fines, as NJSBA requested, the bill was amended to clarify unclear language. The bill now states that the $250 fine applies per student, per incident, and that the state Department of Education will collect fines and put the money in a fund to provide portable computer equipment to at-risk students.