On The Front Lines
Federal Appeals Court Upholds Practice of Mass Student Searches & Random Lockdowns by Police & Drug-Sniffing Dogs in Missouri High School
SPRINGFIELD, Mo.— In a ruling issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools, the court deemed a Missouri school district’s policy of imposing a “lockdown” of the school for the purpose of allowing the local sheriff’s department, aided by drug-sniffing dogs, to perform mass inspections of students’ belongings to be a “reasonable procedure to maintain the safety and security of students at the school,” and not a violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of students.
Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had challenged the school district’s practice of conducting random lockdowns and mass searches of students. Institute attorneys had asked the appeals court to reverse a federal district court’s January 2012 ruling that Springfield Public Schools and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of students when they executed the April 2010 lockdown at Central High School.
“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 W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Americans should be outraged over the fact that school officials are not only defending such clearly unconstitutional practices but are actually going so far as to insist that these raids are a ‘standard drill’ that will continue.”
On April 22, 2010, the principal of Central High School announced over the public address system that the school was going into “lockdown” and that students were prohibited from leaving their classrooms. School officials and agents of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department thereafter ordered students to leave all personal belongings behind and exit the classrooms. Dogs were also brought in to assist in the raid. Upon re-entering the classrooms, students allegedly discovered that their belongings had been rummaged through. Mellony and Doug Burlison, who had two children attending Central High School, complained to school officials that the lockdown and search were a violation of their children’s rights. School officials allegedly responded by insisting that the search was a “standard drill” and policy of the school district which would continue.
Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute sued the school district in September 2010 on behalf of the Burlisons and their two children, asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to declare that the practice of effecting a lockdown of the school and conducting random, suspicionless seizures and searches violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the similar provision of the Missouri Constitution. In its January 2012 decision, the district court declared that the random lockdown and mass searches did not violate students’ rights. In its ruling issued March 4, 2013, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, holding that the school’s interest in combatting drug use outweighed the privacy rights of students. Affiliate attorney Jason T. Umbarger of Springfield, Mo., is assisting The Rutherford Institute in its defense of the Burlison family.