On The Front Lines


Rutherford Institute Challenges Missouri School Over Constitutionality, Continuation of Mass Student Searches & Random Lockdowns



June 13, 2012

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.— Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked a federal appeals court to reject arguments by a Missouri high school defending as legitimate its practice of carrying out random lockdowns and mass searches of the student body. In a reply brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools, Institute attorneys reject claims by Springfield (Mo.) public school officials and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office that officials did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of students 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.

The Rutherford Institute’s complaint and subsequent reply brief in Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools are available here and here.

“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. Institute attorneys subsequently appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2012. Affiliate attorney Jason T. Umbarger of Springfield, Mo., is assisting The Rutherford Institute in its defense of the Burlison family.