School Board "Obligated" to Utilize Drug-Sniffing Dogs, Says Court

by Joseph C. Maya on Apr. 26, 2017

Other Education Government  Government Agencies Civil & Human Rights  Civil Rights 

Summary: Blog post about the use of drug sniffing dogs in public schools.

If you have a question or concern about special education law, school administration, federal standards, or the overall rights of a student, please feel free to call the expert education law attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. in Westport today at (203) 221-3100 .

In the case of Burbank v. Canton Board of Education, a student and his parents sued a board of education in relation to a school board’s policy of using drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless, suspicionless sweeps of school property. The student requests a court injunction to either prevent the sweeps from occurring, or to receive no less than 48 hours notice prior to conduct any future searches. For clarity, an injunction is a court order that would keep the board of education from beginning or continuing an action threatening or invading the rights of the student. An injunction could also be used to compel the board of education to carry out a specific action. A party seeking injunctive relief has the burden of alleging and proving irreparable harm and lack of an adequate remedy at law.

The Board and superintendant ordered police officers to conduct a sweep of cars and unattended lockers at the high school and middle school using dogs. The sweeps were permitted by board of education possible. At trial, plaintiffs' only witness, a parent, testified that she did not believe that using drug-sniffing dogs was an effective way to protect the safety of students and was harmful to them and that conducting such sweeps without notifying parents interfered with the parents' fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children.

The court concluded that plaintiffs failed to establish success on the merits of their claims. Among other things, the court held that a dog-sniff search of a car or unattended locker was not a "search" for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Although school officials, as government agents, are subject to the Fourth Amendment; they do not have to obtain a warrant before conducting such searches. School officials do have to meet the following standards, however, in assessing whether a search of a student's person or effects is reasonable and, therefore, permissible: (1) the search must be reasonable at its inception, which means when school officials have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school and; (2) the search's scope must be reasonably related to the purpose of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the students who are searched and the nature of the infraction.

The court further concluded that the sweeps did not intrude in any meaningful way in the core relationship between the parent and student. The parents do have the fundamental right to control where their children are educated. If parents choose to enroll their children in the public schools, however, they permit school officials to act in loco parentis, or in legal place of the parent, for many purposes. This gives a school administration the power and indeed the duty to promote the habits and manners of civility. As part of this duty, school officials are empowered and obligated to provide an appropriate learning environment for students, which includes "a safe school setting."

In respect to the findings, the court denied the permanent injunction. “[The school board is] obligated to provide an appropriate learning environment for students, which includes a ‘safe school setting” said the court. Such responsibilities include “developing, adopting and implementing policies dealing with drug use, sale and possession at school.” The court concluded: “if school officials failed to provide a school environment that is reasonably free from drugs and contraband, other parents would undoubtedly argue that its failure to do so was negatively impacting their attempts to raise their children in a safe and appropriate manner.”

If you have a child with a disability and have questions about special education law, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at 203-221-3100, or at JMaya@mayalaw.com, to schedule a free consultation.

Source: Burbank v. Canton Bd. of Educ., 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2524 (Conn. Super. Ct. Sept. 14, 2009)

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