MCLU Condemns Extreme Search at Medomak Valley High

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
October 29, 2010 12:00 am


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Calls on MSAD #40 to Engage in Fourth Amendment Education

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Today, the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation (MCLU) advised Medomak Valley High School and the Superintendent of MSAD #40 to conduct Fourth Amendment education with students in light of the school-wide lock-down and search at Medomak Valley High School on October 25. Students and teachers were locked in classrooms for more than one hour with no opportunity to visit the bathroom, while lockers and vehicles were searched. The MCLU condemns the school’s actions, which contradict the spirit of the Fourth Amendment.

“Students have a constitutionally-protected right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,” wrote Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation, in the letter to the school. “Law enforcement and schools have a duty to uphold the Constitution, and locking students and teachers in classrooms while their belongings are searched is incompatible with the Constitution.”

The lock-down was brought to the attention of the MCLU when a Waldoboro resident phoned to express outrage at the school’s actions. The resident reported that neither students, staff nor school board members were informed about the lock-down and search. Students and teachers were locked inside classrooms for over an hour and were not allowed to use the bathroom, while law enforcement officers and dogs searched the premises including lockers and cars in the parking lot. Officers with the Cumberland County, Old Orchard Beach, Portland and Lincoln County Sherriff’s offices, and Waldoboro and Windham Police Departments assisted with the training. This is the second known lock-down this year in MSAD #40.

“Schools should be institutions of learning, not fear,” said Brianna Twofoot, Field Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation. “In the spirit of teaching and learning, we strongly encourage MSAD #40 to conduct Fourth Amendment education for students in grades 9 – 12.”

Last year, the MCLU delivered direct instruction on the Constitution and Bill of Rights to nearly 30 high schools across Maine, reaching nearly 1,000 students. In the letter, the MCLU offered to send an MCLU staff person and volunteer attorney to directly instruct students on their Fourth Amendment freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Students who participate in the MCLU Bill of Rights educational program learn the meaning of “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” and that law enforcement and school administrators should demonstrate one or the other to conduct a lawful search at school.

A copy of the letter is attached to this release below.

October 29, 2010

VIA EMAIL

Superintendent Francis N. Boynton
MSAD #40
1070 Heald Highway
Union, Maine 04862

Principal Harold E. Wilson
Medomak Valley High School
320 Manktown Road
Waldoboro, Maine 04572

Re: October 25 Lock-down at Medomak Valley High School

Dear Superintendent Boynton and Principal Wilson:

On October 26, we received a call from a resident of Waldoboro who expressed outrage over the “training exercise” held at Medomak Valley High School on October 25. It is our understanding that students and teachers were locked in classrooms for more than one hour (with no opportunity to visit the bathroom) while drug-dogs sniffed school lockers, as well as teacher and student vehicles in the school parking lot. We understand that these searches were conducted without cause, and that they did not reveal any drugs, weapons, or contraband.

Students (and teachers) do not check their constitutional rights at the school house gate. Students have a constitutionally-protected right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. If the searches during this training exercise were conducted without cause, they were conducted in contradiction to the spirit of the Constitution. Law enforcement and schools have a duty to uphold the Constitution, and locking students and teachers in classrooms while their belongings are searched is incompatible with the Constitution. Moreover, forcibly locking students and teachers in classrooms for an hour without permitting bathroom visits does not foster a safe healthy place for learning and growth. It is an extreme disappointment that a Maine high school would engage in such behaviors.

Schools are institutions of learning, and as educators, we have a responsibility to teach students about their Constitutional rights. We teach by example, and schools set a poor example when they treat students as if they have no right to privacy.

In the spirit of teaching and learning, we strongly encourage MSAD #40 to conduct Fourth Amendment education for students in grades 9 – 12. The MCLU regularly teaches such lessons in schools across Maine and at our three annual Bill of Rights Student Conferences. We would be happy to supply an MCLU staff person and volunteer attorney to bring this important information to your students. In addition, we have lessons that explicitly instruct students on ways to assert their Fourth Amendment rights while respectfully interacting with law enforcement and school officials during disciplinary situations.

In light of recent events, it is more important than ever that MSAD #40 students be educated about their Constitutional rights. We hope that you will be in touch with our office to discuss how to move forward with such a program in your school district. We can be reached at 207.774.5444, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Brianna Twofoot
Field Director

Shenna Bellows
Executive Director

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