SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (CN) – Parents sued the Springfield Public Schools, saying the repeated “mass lockdowns of public schools,” during which sheriff’s officers search virtually everything – backpacks, lockers, and students’ bodies, if the police dogs “alert” on them – are unconstitutional. When the parents complained, they say the school board said it was their “policy” to conduct five such lockdowns a year, though there was no probable cause for them.
Mellony and Douglas Burlison sued the district on behalf of their two children, C.M. and H.M., who attend Central High School. They also sued Superintendent Norm Ridder, Principal Ron Snodgrass and Greene County Sheriff James Arnott.
C.M. was in his third period class when principal Snodgrass announced on the loudspeaker “that the school was going into ‘lockdown’ and that students may not leave their classrooms. At that time, deputies of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office were present at Central High School along with dogs,” according to the complaint.
The deputies had been invited there by the school district and the school administrators, the Burlinsons say.
Fifteen minutes into the lockdown, deputies entered C.M.’s classroom and “ordered students and teachers to leave the room. Students were told not to take any possessions or effects, such as backpacks, notebooks and purses, with them but to leave them in the classroom.”
When C.M. and his classmates returned to the room, about 10 minutes later, “backpacks and other student belongings had been moved around, zippers had been unzipped and saliva was on the effects indicated that the dogs had come in contact with the students’ belongings and effects.”
“In particular, C.M. observed that although all the zippers on his backpack were shut when he left the room, when he returned the zippers on his backpack were open and items within the backpack had been moved. At least three other students in his third period class also pointed out that their effects, i.e., purses and backpacks, had been moved and the students observed signs indicating that police had rummaged through their belongings.”
The officers, and dogs, then repeated their search in another classroom. The cops also “guided dogs through the hallways of Central High School, allowing the dogs to examine lockers and students throughout the school. If a dog alerted on a student, police seized the student and conducted a full search of the student’s person and effects.”
When the Burlisons complained about the lockdown and warrantless searches, a publicist for the school district “publicly announced that the ‘lockdown’ and searches were a ‘standard drill’ and not prompted by any incident that had occurred at Central High School. The spokesman also announced that it was the intent and policy of defendants SPS to conduct similar ‘lockdowns at all SPS high schools.”
Mellony Burlison complained to the school board, and says she was told that “the kind of ‘lockdown’ C.M. and H.M. experienced on April 22, 2010, was standard policy for SPS and that SPS conducts five such ‘lockdowns’ and law enforcement sweeps with the school system each year.”
Doug Burlison then spoke to the school board at its June 15 meeting “and informed the School Board that he and his wife took this matter very seriously and questioned the constitutionality of the SPS policy allowing school ‘lock downs’ and investigative sweeps of schools. Plaintiff Doug Burlison solicited the views or comments of the Board concerning the policy and if any review of it was underway, but no member made any statement in response.”
The Burlisons want the lockdowns and warrantless searches enjoined as unconstitutional, plus nominal damages and costs. They are represented by Jason Umbarger of Springfield.