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John Whitehead's Commentary

Virtual School Dangers: The Hazards of a Police State Education During COVID-19 [SHORT]

John Whitehead

Over the course of the past 30 years, the need to keep the schools “safe” from drugs and weapons has become a thinly disguised, profit-driven campaign to transform them into quasi-prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, school resource officers, strip searches, and active shooter drills.

Suddenly, under school zero tolerance policies, students were being punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest for childish behavior and minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight.

Things got even worse once schools started to rely on police to “deal with minor rule breaking.”  As a result, students are being subjected to police tactics such as handcuffs, leg shackles, tasers and excessive force for “acting up,” in addition to being ticketed, fined and sent to court for behavior perceived as defiant, disruptive or disorderly such as spraying perfume and writing on a desk.

This is what constitutes a police state education these days: lessons in compliance meted out with aggressive, totalitarian tactics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added yet another troubling layer to the ways in which students (and their families) can run afoul of a police state education now that school (virtual or in-person) is back in session.

Apart from the technological logistics of ensuring that millions of students across the country have adequate computer and internet access, consider the Fourth Amendment ramifications of having students attend school online via video classes from the privacy of their homes.

Suddenly, you’ve got government officials (in this case, teachers or anyone at the school on the other end of that virtual connection) being allowed carte blanche visual access to the inside of one’s private home without a warrant.

Anything those school officials see—anything they hear—anything they photograph or record—during that virtual visit becomes fair game for scrutiny and investigation not just by school officials but by every interconnected government agency to which that information can be relayed: the police, social services, animal control, the Department of Homeland Security, you name it.

After all, this is the age of overcriminalization, when the federal criminal code is so vast that the average American unknowingly commits about three federal felonies per day, a U.S. Attorney can find a way to charge just about anyone with violating federal law.

It’s a train wreck just waiting to happen.

In fact, we’re already seeing this play out across the country. For instance, police carried out a welfare check on a 12-year-old Colorado boy, who was then suspended for flashing a toy gun across his computer screen during an online art class.

An 11-year-old Maryland boy had police descend on his home in search of weapons after school officials spied a BB gun on the boy’s bedroom wall during a Google Meet class on his laptop.

And in New York and Massachusetts, growing numbers of parents are being visited by social services after being reported to the state child neglect and abuse hotline, all because their kids failed to sign in for some of their online classes.

You see what this is, don’t you?

This is how a seemingly well-meaning program (virtual classrooms) becomes another means by which the government can intrude into our private lives, further normalizing the idea of constant surveillance and desensitizing us to the dangers of an existence in which we are never safe from the all-seeing eyes of Big Brother.

This is how the police sidestep the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for probable cause and a court-issued warrant in order to spy us on in the privacy of our homes: by putting school officials in a position to serve as spies and snitches via online portals and virtual classrooms, and by establishing open virtual doorways into our homes through which the police can enter uninvited and poke around.

It’s only a matter of time before the self-righteous Nanny State uses this COVID-19 pandemic as yet another means by which it can dictate every aspect of our lives.

At the moment, it’s America’s young people who are the guinea pigs for the police state’s experiment in virtual authoritarianism. Already, school administrators are wrestling with how to handle student discipline for in-person classes and online learning in the midst of COVID-19.

Mark my words, this will take school zero tolerance policies—and their associated harsh disciplinary penalties—to a whole new level once you have teachers empowered to act as the Thought Police.

If you think the schools won’t overreact in a virtual forum, you should think again.

These are the same schools that have been plagued by a lack of common sense when it comes to enforcing zero tolerance policies for weapons, violence and drugs.

For instance, several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of "cops and robbers" during recess and using their fingers as guns. Students have also been penalized for such inane "crimes" as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug.

These police state tactics did not made the schools any safer.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, police state tactics never make anyone safer so much as they present the illusion of safety and indoctrinate the populace to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

Now with virtual learning in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, the stakes are even higher.

It won’t be long before you start to see police carrying out knock-and-talk investigations based on whatever speculative information is gleaned from those daily virtual classroom sessions that allow government officials entry to your homes in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

It won’t take much at all for SWAT teams to start crashing through doors based on erroneous assumptions about whatever mistaken “contraband” someone may have glimpsed in the background of a virtual classroom session: a maple leaf that looks like marijuana, a jar of sugar that looks like cocaine, a toy gun, someone playfully shouting for help in the distance.

This may sound far-fetched now, but it’s only a matter of time before this slippery slope becomes yet another mile marker on the one-way road to tyranny.

WC: 1096

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  is available at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

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