A Tennessee school district where security cameras were installed in a middle school's locker rooms is accused of allowing images of children changing their clothes to be viewed over the Internet.
The parents of 17 children, ages 10 to 12, have filed lawsuits in federal and state courts against the Overton County School Board and Edutech Inc., the company that installed the cameras in the district's Livingston Middle School. The suits seek more than $4 million in damages.
According to the suit, images captured by the cameras of children dressing and undressing were stored on the hard drive of school computers and were accessed over the Internet from outside the school 98 times — often late at night or early in the morning — between July 2002 and January 2003.
Officials at the school, which is located about 80 miles northeast of Nashville, never changed the access codes for the security system files from the factory default settings, according to the complaint.
"I feel betrayed," said Michelle Meadows, the mother of one of the girls named as plaintiffs in the suit. "I trusted them with my child and they have betrayed my trust and I don't know if that's anything I can get back."
School officials provided no warning notice that the locker rooms were under surveillance, according to the suit.
According to the complaint, the issue was first raised on Jan. 9 when children from Allons Elementary School, who were using the locker rooms to change for basketball games at Livingston, noticed the cameras and asked about them. The complaint alleges that after the director of schools, William Needham, looked at what the cameras filmed that day, he told parents that the images were "a few bras and panties."
Needham refused to comment on what the lawsuit quotes him as saying or on any other aspect of the case. He referred all questions to the district's lawyer, Chuck Grady.
A spokeswoman at the Overton County School Board also referred calls by ABCNEWS.com to the district lawyer.
Grady said there would be no public comment on the suit until the district's response is filed. He said the response would not be filed for several weeks.
A spokeswoman for Edutech said the company would not comment on the suit. She declined to comment when asked if it was possible that the viewing of the images recorded on the school computer's hard drive could have been Edutech checking on the security system.
The Livingston Middle School is closed for the summer, and calls to the school were not answered. There is no home phone listing for the school's principal, Melinda Beaty.
The Overton County Sheriff's Department carried out an investigation last winter after the cameras were discovered, but decided not to file any criminal charges, Lt. Keith Smith said.
One camera had been placed in each of the two locker rooms, and they were pointed at doors from the locker rooms to the outside, because school officials were concerned about children sneaking out. However, the cameras had wide-angle lenses that also took in areas where children changed their clothes, he said.
"I think there was probably bad judgment as to where they were put and maybe some negligence after they were found to be put in a place where they could record inappropriate images," Smith said. "They got more than they should have."
Investigators determined that the images had been accessed over the Internet, he said.