The lawyer for the Lower Merion School District's former technology chief fired back Tuesday after a report commissioned by the school board faulted his client's role in the district's use of Web cameras to track students' laptops.
The lawyer, Nicholas Centrella, said he and former informations systems director Virginia DiMedio did not dispute most of the facts in the 69-page document, issued Monday night.
But Centrella challenged some of the conclusions, starting with the cover-page description of the investigators' work as an "independent" probe into the use of software that let district employees remotely and secretly capture photos and screenshots from the laptops.
"It was not an independent investigation," Centrella said. "What flows from that [report] is a clear attempt to insulate and protect the current board at the expense of the IT [information technology] department and employees like Ginny."
DiMedio's lawyer said he suspected district officials simply wanted "to throw her under the bus."
Prepared by a team of lawyers and computer experts hired by the school district, the report said Lower Merion employees, administrators, and board members failed to address privacy issues, spell out limits on use of the tracking system, and notify students and parents that the software allowed technicians to photograph them, copy their screens, and track their school-issued laptops.
The report's most pointed criticism was aimed at DiMedio and her staffers, who investigators said "were not forthcoming" about the tracking technology and were unwilling "to let anyone outside" of their department know that the Web cams could secretly snap and store photos every 15 minutes a laptop was running and online.
Among other things, the investigators disputed DiMedio's account, reported in Sunday's Inquirer, that she had asked several times to meet with the district's solicitor in the 2008-09 school year to discuss potential problems with the plan to give every high school student a take-home laptop.
The report also said DiMedio's successor, who arrived after she retired last summer, initially described the department as the Wild West - "because there were few official policies and no manuals or procedures, and personnel were not regularly evaluated."
Centrella said his client never hid the software's tracking features from administrators or board members, and strove to get policies established.
"While the report criticizes the lack of policies during Ms. DiMedio's employment, it inappropriately attempts to blame the IT staff for those deficiencies," the lawyer said in a statement.
Centrella also noted that DiMedio had been gone for months when an assistant Harriton High School principal confronted sophomore Blake Robbins last fall with a photo taken by his laptop Webcam in his Penn Valley home.
That incident led to the lawsuit by Robbins and his parents accusing the district of spying on him and other students, a claim that sparked international attention. The suit is pending.
Centrella would not let his client speak publicly on Tuesday, but said she planned to give a sworn deposition in the Robbins case. He predicted that some of her answers under oath would contradict the district investigators' report.
Lower Merion spokesman Doug Young declined Tuesday to specifically address the assertions by DiMedio's lawyer. But Young said the district "accepts the methodology, findings, and recommended corrective actions outlined by the investigative team."
Those investigators concluded that technicians turned on the Web cams on student computers 76 times in two school years, almost always when a laptop was reported missing or stolen.
But, according to their report, tech staffers often failed to turn off the tracking software even after the computers were returned to students.
In those cases, the system snapped more than 50,000 images, including photos of students, their families and programs running on their laptop screens.
The investigators said they found no evidence of intentional spying and that none of the images showed nudity or students in any compromising situations.
Attorneys representing the district, the Robbinses, and other Lower Merion families are still discussing a process to alert students who were photographed by the Web cams and give them an opportunity to view the photos, with or without their parents.
In their report, the district's investigators also acknowledged being unable to find explanations for all the tracking activations, or why the district failed to consider the privacy implications of a system intended solely to track down lost or stolen laptops.
In her Inquirer interview last week, DiMedio said it would have been counterproductive for the district to publicize the theft-tracking technology. She also said privacy questions didn't cross her mind because she assumed none of her employees would use the system to spy on students.
DiMedio also said that since the furor arose in February over the now-disabled tracking system, she had increasingly worried about being made a scapegoat.
Centrella said that seemed more likely when - as the report noted - school district officials turned down DiMedio's request to provide her with a lawyer in the case.
"They just refused to do it," he said Tuesday, "I think, in large part, because they wanted to throw her under the bus."