BY PAULA BOLYARD JUN 11, 2020 9:24 PM EST
A Baltimore County, Md., fifth-grader got a visit from the police after his teacher called to report that she had seen a BB gun on the wall behind the student during a class video call.
The boy’s mother, Courtney Lancaster Sperry, a Navy veteran, is warning other parents about a lack of privacy during virtual classes after her son was targeted by a teacher who saw what she thought was a scary-looking gun hanging on the wall of the boy’s bedroom.
“While my son was on a Zoom call, a ‘concerned parent’ and subsequently two teachers saw his properly stowed and mounted Red Ryder BB gun and one other BB gun in the background,” Sperry wrote on Facebook. “He was not holding them and never intentionally showed them on video. In fact, he was oblivious that they could even be seen in the background.”
After the teacher reported the gun, the principal, Jason Feiler, decided to call the police to report the guns and ask that the home be searched.
The principal and the teacher cited a rule stating that students may not bring guns to school and claimed it extended to virtual classes as well, Sperry said, adding that the school handbook does not address rules for virtual learning at all. Besides, “he did not BRING anything to this meeting and he is in his own home,” she said. “They were simply in the background in our home, safely stowed in a room behind a closed door, with no ammunition (if you can even call it that).”
Sperry told PJ Media that the school’s vice-principal called her ex-husband, claiming to be checking on network connectivity. She believes the real reason for the call was to find out which home her son was at. The vice-principal “ended the call without leveraging the opportunity to discuss the matter and rather was fishing for information to find out where to dispatch police,” she said.
The 11-year-old in question is a Boy Scout, pursuing the rank of Eagle Scout and is an “outdoors / all-boy kind of kid,” his mom said. “And as his parents and by way of legal rights, he is allowed to own said guns.” In addition to the BB gun, she said her son is training in archery and enjoys shooting his Airsoft gun.
Sperry was, understandably, shocked when police pulled up in front of the family’s home.
“I had no idea what to think. I’ve never been in any legal trouble whatsoever. I’ve never had any negative encounter with law enforcement,” said Sperry. “I had no idea. I really didn’t know what to think.”
“So, I answered the door. The police officer was… very nice. He explained to me that he was coming to address an issue with my son’s school,” the mother told Fox Baltimore. “And then explained to me that he was here to search for weapons, in my home. And I consented to let him in. And then I, unfortunately, stood there and watched police officers enter my 11-year-old son’s bedroom.”
“The officers that responded were appalled at the call and even commended the set-up that my son has for his toys and commended him also on his respect and understanding of the BB guns,” Sperry wrote on Facebook.
Sperry asked the principal why the issue couldn’t have been handled privately by phone rather than sending the police. “He said that was not their policy,” she said.
“The officers were more than nice,” she wrote, “and though they did not have a warrant, I have always been taught to not only comply, but had nothing to hide and allowed them to look wherever they wanted to.”
“I felt violated as a parent, for my child, who’s standing there with police officers in his room, just to see the fear on his face,” she added.
What she should have done is refuse to let the police in her home without a search warrant. Neither she nor her son had done anything wrong, but the police invaded and searched the family’s home anyway, albeit politely, poking around for a full 20 minutes, despite the fact that no wrongdoing had been alleged and they had no probable cause to search the home. This was nothing more than an overreaction by a nosy teacher who was spying on her student’s bedroom when she was supposed to be teaching.
According to Sperry, the spy teacher took a screenshot of the boy’s bedroom, which is incredibly creepy and a violation of the family’s privacy. When the mother demanded to see the screenshot taken by the creeper-teacher, she was told she would not be allowed to view it because it wasn’t part of his official school record.
“It’s absolutely scary to think about,” Sperry said. “Who are on these calls? Who do we have viewing [our] children and subsequently taking these screenshots that can be sent anywhere or used for any purpose?”
She told PJ Media that she decided to go public in order “to push for policy change and make parents aware” of possible violations of privacy during online classes.
This incident raises some serious questions about privacy related to virtual learning. Teachers (and perhaps others who might be watching) are granted access to children’s homes and even their bedrooms. It appears from this incident that there were no rules in place preventing the teacher from taking pictures of his bedroom. How many students has this teacher spied on? How many screenshots has she taken of them during virtual classes? Has she amassed a database of her students’ home situations?
“I have explained to my son that he did nothing wrong,” Sperry said. “He said, ‘I’m just sad because I thought the teachers were my friends.'”
The school refused to comment on the specific case but told Fox Baltimore, “There are multiple ways for families to share concerns with us. In general terms, the safety of students and staff is our chief concern, whether we are meeting in classrooms or via continuity of learning.”
“So, what are the parameters? Where are the lines drawn?” Sperry wants to know. “If my son is sitting at the kitchen island next to a butcher block, does that constitute a weapon? It’s not allowed at school, right? So, would my home then be searched because he’s sitting next to a butcher block? I feel like parents need to be made aware of what the implications are, what the expectations are.”
“Virtual learning may work well for you,” she said, “but make sure nothing in your home offends anyone [or] you may spend the next couple of weeks circumventing the invasion and violation that I did today.”
“My child and my home will no longer be subjected to video to allow room for any other violation of my rights and how I legally manage my home,” she declared.
Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard
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