Police in Baltimore County, Maryland paid a visit to Courtney Lancaster’s home the other day after getting a call from the school resource officer at Seneca Elementary, where Lancaster’s 11-year old son is in fifth grade. He’s been attending school online since March without incident, but apparently an eagle-eyed teacher saw something in the child’s bedroom that required a police response: a BB gun.
“So, I answered the door. The police officer was, he was very nice. He explained to me that he was coming to address an issue with my son’s school,” Courtney told Project 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.”
Courtney was told someone had seen the guns in her son’s bedroom during a Google Meet class on his laptop.
According to emails Courtney later exchanged with a school administrator, a screenshot was taken during the online class. The principal of Seneca Elementary was notified. Courtney says she was told the school safety officer then called police.
“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 said.
After a few minutes, officers left Lancaster’s home without incident, but this never should have happened in the first place, and Lancaster is understandably ticked off at the school district for not even contacting her before they called the cops.
Since that day, she has written school administrators, the superintendent and the school board, demanding answers. She says the principal initially compared bringing a weapon to a virtual class to bringing a gun to school.
She was also told she could not see the screenshot of her son’s bedroom, because it’s not part of his student record.
“It’s absolutely scary to think about,” Courtney said. “Who are on these calls? Who do we have viewing your children and subsequently taking these screenshots that can be sent anywhere or used for any purpose?”
I don’t know where to even begin with this. The kid didn’t “bring a weapon” to his virtual class. He has several BB guns hanging on the wall of his bedroom. Even if the teacher who spotted the BB guns thought that they were real firearms, the first call should have been to mom, not police. Instead, even now the district is responding to media requests for comment with a mixture of disdain and outright dismissal.
Project Baltimore reached out to Baltimore County Schools requesting an interview. We received this statement, “Our longstanding policy is to not debate individual circumstances through the media. 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.”
Lancaster says she understand the safety concerns, but still wonders how far the school district plans on taking things. What happens if her son attends his virtual class in the kitchen, with a sharp knife visible in the background? Will the police pay her another visit?
I live in a rural school district where many families don’t have the bandwidth or computers necessary for their kids to attend class online, so I hadn’t given much thought to abuses of power and invasions of privacy like this until I read Lancaster’s story. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been relieved to have to rely on satellite-based Internet until now, but I’m relieved that, of all the things my kids will have to deal with growing up in this day and age, having the police called because a teacher spotted a BB gun on their bedroom wall isn’t one of them.
If I had no choice but to send my kid to virtual school, I think I’d be disabling their camera before class started. In a pinch, I might invest in one of those green screens that attaches to the back of a chair to block the prying eyes of teachers or principals who might be tempted to use class time to engage in a bit of domestic surveillance. Either way, I’d do everything possible to prevent my child’s educators from invading my privacy under the guise of public education.