Got Warrant?

By Beacon Staff

Ever noticed how Montana makes the news only when stupid stuff happens? Our latest claim to national fame comes courtesy of Columbia Falls High School.

CFHS junior Demari DeReu forgot her hunting rifle in her car trunk after the last weekend of hunting season. She remembered it when a school lockdown/sniffdown was announced, and immediately told a school secretary. Administration rewarded her honesty by yanking her from class and triggering an expulsion proceeding.

So, Demari and her parents lawyered up. The school board heard her case, and now she’s back in school with a chance to make up two weeks of lost time and clear her record. End of story? Nah.

Now, most of the “hullabaloo” was over the gun issue and the harshness of CFHS’s school policy regarding firearms, rightfully so. Under the law, or most of it, Demari is legal, as many of us feel she dang well should be. But according to school policy, she’s a bad, bad girl. But the policy isn’t the school’s fault, rather the policy is a direct outgrowth of federal law.

This wasteful edict from Congress has likely spawned thousands of expulsion hearings, but only eight federal convictions. How it came into being epitomizes dark-of-night Congressional bill-stuffing, logrolling, and blackmail spanning at least 11 years – if you’re interested, comment on the Beacon website and I’ll send you my files of what I dredged up.

One emphatic suggestion I do have for Montana school boards: Rewrite the firearm policy so that a student is removed from class, or suspended before a hearing, only if a clear and present danger exists.

Trouble is, while the “hullabaloo” over Miss DeReu is supposedly about the Second Amendment, after getting Whitefish’s school board policies off the web (I couldn’t find CFHS’s) and doing some reading, I find myself more upset over Fourth Amendment issues – as in “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.”

In short, “Got Warrant?”

Not at school: Whitefish’s board policy 3231P states “school authorities may inspect and search school property and equipment owned or controlled by the District (such as lockers, desks, and parking lots)” and do so “without notice or consent.”

“The Superintendent may request the assistance of law enforcement officials, including their use of specially trained dogs, to conduct inspections and searches of lockers, desks, parking lots, and other school property and equipment for illegal drugs, weapons, or other illegal or dangerous substances or material.”

Furthermore, “[w]hile on school property, vehicles may be inspected at any time by staff, by contractors employed by the District utilizing trained dogs, for the presence of illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, or weapons [and if there is reason to believe such are present] the student’s vehicle will be searched, and the student expressly consents to such a search.”

Also, “by parking in the school parking lots, the student consents to having his/her vehicle searched if the school authorities have any other reasonable suspicion to believe that a violation of school rules or policy has occurred.”

I may be wrong, but nowhere in Whitefish policy 3231P is there any requirement, or allowance made for student request, of parental notification before any search.

These school-wide lock-down-and-sniff-ups are duly announced, I gather, but still – am I the only one who smells just a tiny whiff of KGB and Gestapo stink?

Certainly, our schools should be safe places where children can learn – but isn’t it important that they learn, above all, how to be Americans? You know, American citizens, with civil liberties worth defending?

Instead, these policies set up an environment where kids are more likely to learn how to be sheep. How will today’s students, all graduated and grown up, react to police patrols with sniffer dogs down Nucleus Avenue some future Saturday night?

I guess we’ll find out someday, won’t we?

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