ACLU of Southern California Sues to Stop Intrusive Searches at High School

June 19, 2001 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – Students at Locke High School here, who are routinely subjected to intrusive searches of their persons, papers, and belongings, took action today as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on their behalf in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

The lawsuit, filed against various officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District, alleges that students’ Fourth Amendment rights have been violated by the searches.

“Our society is moving toward treating every youth as a criminal suspect,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “Searches without reasonable suspicion are just one component in this trend – a trend that makes the false promise of providing safety in exchange for surrendering civil rights. The safety payoff never materializes, but in the meantime, students’ rights do get taken away.”

“By instituting repressive security measures in schools, we educate our students to be residents of a police state, not a democracy,” said Ripston.

At Locke High School, students are subjected to two kinds of searches, neither of which is based on reasonable suspicion, according to the ACLU lawsuit.

At the front gate of the school, some students who are late are chosen for searches. Students are scanned using a metal-detecting wand, and their jackets, book bags, pockets, and purses are searched.

A second form of search is conducted during class time, when students are randomly selected for a search in front of the class. Students report being taken to the front of the room and patted down in front of their classmates.

Elizabeth Perea, a junior at Locke, described one of the searches:

“[A school official]…took the girls to the blackboard,” said Perea. “We were told to face the blackboard. She told us to lift up our arms and open our legs. She patted down our pockets, ankles, and pant legs. She told us to untuck our shirts and to turn around. Nobody found anything on any of the students. Nobody explained why they were searching us. Instead, we each received a note afterwards explaining that we had been searched.”

Perea said that the searches humiliate and embarrass Locke students and waste time that could have spent learning.

“The searches make me very uncomfortable,” said Perea. “It is absurd. We try to stay away from violence and gangs, and either way we are treated like gangbangers. They should not search us during our education time. Plus, girls have private things in our bags, like for when we get our period, and that shouldn’t be shown for everyone to see.”

Parents also objected to their children being treated like criminals. Nathaniel Ali-Perkins, of the African-American Parent/Community Organization, charged that the searches damaged students’ self-esteem.

“We believe the searches are dehumanizing and damaging to our children’s self-esteem – and, overall, program them for failure,” said Ali-Perkins.

Moreover, the searches have failed as a security tool, the ACLU said. Not once in the eight years since the school district instituted its random search policy has a gun been uncovered as a result of a random search.

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