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A random, lockdown search of student’s backpacks and other possessions, organized by a Missouri high school and the local sheriffs’ department, did not violate any constitutional protections, according to a judge’s ruling in the controversial case.
“Plaintiffs have not produced any admissible evidence to support a claim that any of the individual defendants committed any such constitutional violation,” said the opinion by Judge Richard Dorr in the federal court for the Western District of Missouri.
The case was launched in 2010 when administrators at Central High School of Springfield, Mo., school district ordered a lockdown, told students to leave their classrooms without their backpacks and then had sheriff’s officers search the campus while students were detained.
A Fourth Amendment lawsuit was filed by the the Rutherford Institute, which today criticized the ruling.
“Such random, suspicionless lockdown raids against children teach our children a horrific lesson – one that goes against every fundamental principle this country was founded upon – that we have no rights at all against the police state,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which took up the cause of the students.
“We have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike. To then be denied justice by the courts only adds to the wrongs being perpetrated against young people today,” he said.
The organization said the lockdown allowed sheriff’s officers, aided by drug-sniffing dogs, to perform mass inspections of students’ belongings. Whitehead said the actions deserve an appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The organization reported that it was on April 22, 2010, when the principal of Central High used the public address system to lock down the school, telling students they were prohibited from leaving their classrooms.
Then deputies and agents of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department ordered students and teachers to leave all personal belongings behind and exit the classrooms. Dogs were used in the subsequent searches.
|Central High School|
When students were allowed back in, they discovered that their belongings had been rummaged through, the Rutherford Institute said.
Mellony and Doug Burlison, who had two children in the school at the time, complained to officials, but the school said its procedures would not be changed.
The Rutherford Institute then brought its legal action, asking the court to declare that the practice of ordering a lockdown and conducting random, suspicionless seizures and searches violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a similar provision of the Missouri Constitution.
In a court opinion filled with references to “not liable,” Dorr said, “The long and short of all of this is that the written policies and procedures of the Greene County sheriff and the Springfield public schools involved in this case appear to be reasonable and not in any way a deprivation of a federal right.”
The judge indicated some of the information in the case was unclear but concluded it didn’t matter.
“There may be an issue as to whether C.M.’s belongings were searched as C.M. testified that before he left the classroom for the drug detection exercise, he zipped up the pockets on his backpack, but when he returned to the classroom after the drug detection some of the pockets on his backpack were unzipped,” the judge wrote.
But the judge wrote even if a deputy or school official searched the backpack, none of the defendants would be liable.