On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Asks Appeals Court to Declare Mass Student Searches & Random Lockdowns in Missouri High Schools To Be Unconstitutional

April 24, 2012

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.— Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked a federal appeals court to declare that school officials at a Missouri high school violated students’ constitutional rights when they imposed 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. In a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools, Institute attorneys ask the 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 lockdown at Central High School in Springfield on April 22, 2010. The Institute’s brief asks the appellate court to rule that the lockdown effected a mass and suspicionless seizure of student belongings in violation of the rights of students to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Institute’s brief in Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools is available here.

“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,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “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. It is our hope that the courts do not add to the wrongs being perpetrated against young people today.”

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.  According to the complaint, school officials responded that this was a “standard drill” and policy of the school district which would continue.

The lawsuit, filed by Rutherford Institute attorneys on behalf of the Burlisons and their two children, asked the court 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. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri rejected the Institute’s argument, finding that the students’ belongings were not subject to an illegal seizure when the students were ushered away from their classrooms and told to leave their possessions behind before police entered to conduct a search. Affiliate attorney Jason T. Umbarger of Springfield, Mo., assisted the Institute with its defense of the Burlisons.