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Councilman Doug Burlison Suing Springfield (MO) School District Over "Lock Down"

He Says Search Violated Students Rights

September 27, 2010|Doug Magditch | dmagditch@kspr.com

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A Springfield (MO) city councilman says his kids were the victims of an illegal search. Now, he's suing over it.

Doug Burlison says Central High School, and the Greene County Sheriff's Department, conducted an illegal search. He, his wife Mellony, and two kids, filed a case against SPS, Superintendent Norm Ridder, Central High Principal Ron Snodgrass, and Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott.

In April, 2010, the Greene County Sheriff's Department brought a trained dog to Central High School to sniff out drugs.

Burlison says he was told by the school district it's part of five lockdowns a year, considered 'standard drills.' That's a standard Burlison says violates the students' rights.

"They went in and searched all the back packs and all the lockers," says Senior Tyler Young.

Young says during his history class, on April 22nd, Central was locked down. He and his classmates were sent to the library, and told to leave their things behind.

"We went to the library for the rest of the block," says Tyler.

He says while they were gone their bags were searched.

"I'm one of those people where my backpack's one place and I can tell when it's moved. They searched the pockets and everything," says Young.

In a case filed Monday, Burlison says that violates students' 4th Amendment rights, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure.

4th Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

"Warrentless mass searches of high school students send a horrific message, teach a horrific message, to the high school students of our community that they're powerless against the state, against the police," says Jason Umbarger, the attorney who filed the case. Umbarger is representing The Rutherford Institute.

"School officials do not have to have probable cause for a search, they have to have reasonable suspicion," says SPS attorney, Ransom Ellis, III.

"It all falls within what state and federal law dictates," says Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott of the searches.

Arnott, a plaintiff in the suit, says he can't talk about the Central search, because of the court case. He says he stands behind his deputies actions.

"All of the policies that i know of have been followed correctly and protocol has been followed," says Arnott.

Young says he didn't mind the lockdown because it did make a difference.

"I heard kids saying that they found these drugs on me and they found this in my locker," says Young. "Once they see it, they're gonna say, 'Hey, I don't want to bring my drugs to school because they're gonna have dogs here.'"

Burlison says he isn't against the result, he's against the procedure.

"Students do not leave their constitutional rights at the school house gates," says Umbarger.

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This is a program the school district re-introduced last school year. It ran drug searches at four Springfield high schools, according to Ellis. It plans to run five searches this school year.

i heard kids saying that they found these drugs on me and they found this in my lockersays Umbarger.

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