Posts tagged with "school searches"

On the Use of Metal Detectors at Public Schools

School Response to Off-Campus Violence

On July 21, 2012, 15-year-old Keijahnae Robinson was sitting on her aunt’s front porch with friends after attending a Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She was looking forward to her own celebration, which was a week away. Unfortunately, she became the thirteenth homicide in Bridgeport this year after two gunmen “sprayed the… porch she was on, striking her in the head and wounding her two friends.”[1] 

The family’s planned beach party for Keijahnae “became hushed preparations for her funeral and burial.”[2] While Keijahnae’s murder prompted widespread discussion regarding juvenile curfews in the city,[3] one response that has received less attention was the decision by the Bridgeport Board of Education to install metal detectors and “implement other provisions” at several schools, with the aim of avoiding future tragedies.[4]

What prompts any given school district to utilize metal detectors varies, though it unsurprisingly is almost always linked to acts of violence on or off school grounds. For example, personnel in Hartford public schools use handheld metal detectors “[i]n view of the escalating presence of weapons in America’s schools today.”[5] 

The shooting suicide of a 13-year-old student at Stillwater Junior High School (in Oklahoma) has administration admitting, “The metal detector question is something we’ll talk about pretty quickly.”[6] In Bridgeport, it was the off-campus shooting death of a young girl aspiring to be the next Mariah Carey.[7]

Legality of Metal Detector Use in Schools

Public opinion of the use of metal detectors in schools is naturally divided. Bridgeport parents and students were “very grateful that the school has undertaken these extra measures of security.”[8] Others question the effectiveness of detecting weapons,[9] cite insufficient data to decide either way,[10] or argue safety isn’t the real issue.[11]

However, what is of greatest import to schools is the legality of metal detector use, which at this point in time is on their side. The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) appears to have provided its endorsement, noting that Fourth Amendment restrictions on searches and seizures still apply. As one member of CABE stated, “A school needs justifiable reasoning for implementing them such as a pattern of weapons.”[12] 

Courts will uphold the employment of metal detectors by school districts as a means to screen students for contraband or weapons that pose a risk of harm to the student body. Deemed a minimally intrusive search, “[t]he courts have allowed schools to use this method in order to ensure weapons are excluded from the school environment.”[13]

Students do not fully surrender their constitutional protections while at school, and as such it is important, as a parent, to understand and appreciate your child’s rights. If you believe that your child was subject to an impermissible search by school officials, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced school law practitioner.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school searches or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at


[1] “Bridgeport girl, shot after Sweet 16 party, dies,” by Stacy Davis and Michael P. Mayko. Published July 21, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012:

[2] Id.

[3] See, e.g., “Relatives of shooting victim call for curfew,” by Stacy Davis. Published July 24, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012:

[4] “Spike In Violence Prompts Bridgeport To Install Metal Detectors,” by Tikeyah Whittle. Published Spetember 11, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012:

[5] “Hartford Public School Board of Education Policies and Regulations.” Accessed October 5, 2012:

[6] “Oklahoma teen suicide mourned,” by Christine Roberts. Published September 27, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012:

[7] See Footnote 1.

[8] See Footnote 4.

[9] “Expert: Metal detectors aren’t guarantee,” by Brian Troutman. Published September 17, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012:

[10] “Impacts of Metal Detector Use in Schools: Insights From 15 Years of Research,” by Abigail Hankin, Marci Hertz, and Thomas Simon. Journal of School Health, Vol. 81, No.2 pp.100-106. Accessed October 5, 2012:

[11] “The issue isn’t ‘safety,’ it’s guns,” by Lori K. Brown. Published September 19, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012:

[12] See Footnote 4.

[13] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., pp.62.

“Sniff Away Fido!” Assessing the Extent of Allowing Canine Searches of Students in Our Schools

The past few articles I’ve composed have highlighted various contexts in the realm of school searches of students and their possessions. Connecticut has codified the landmark decision of New Jersey v. T.L.O., incorporating the parameters of permissible school searches into § 54-33n: “justified at its inception” and “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.”[1] Though it provides important definitions of terms in the applicable two-part reasonableness test, it does not specifically limit who or what may be searched and the manner of the search itself (thus the test).

Dog-Sniffing Tactics to Combat Drug Abuse

Switching gears without the clutch, in the United States, households nationwide own approximately 78.2 million pet dogs.[2] They have been near and dear to our hearts as “Man’s Best Friend,” and became increasingly loved every time Lassie saved Timmy – yet again – from that well. However… fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and they’ve become a vital tool utilized by local and federal law enforcement at shipping facilities, airports, security checkpoints, and… well, basically everywhere.

The use of dog-sniffing tactics is on the rise as schools attempt to combat drug abuse within its student body. “The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University completed a 2005 study concluding that [at that time] 2.4 million, or 28% of middle school students, and 10.6 million, or 62% of high school students, will attend schools where drugs are used, kept, or sold.”[3] These students are “three times likelier to have tried marijuana, three times likelier to get drunk in a typical month, and twice as likely to have tried alcohol, compared to teens who attend drug-free schools.”[4]

The Supreme Court in New Jersey v. T.L.O. clarified that teachers are subject to constitutional restrictions on their searches of students, though not as stringent as those applied to law enforcement (see above, as codified in § 54-33n). Thus, the use of canines in conducting drug searches hinges on the reasonableness of the search. In practice, however, federal jurisdictions are producing conflicting (and irreconcilable) results about whether dog-sniffing constitutes a search at all[5] – a conflict which inevitably will find its way once more in front of the Supreme Court.

Providing Safety to Students

Nonetheless, school districts are choosing to retain dogs in their arsenal of search weaponry to combat drug use and abuse – not without controversy amongst residents, either. Earlier this year, canine sweeps became routine at Simsbury High School: “the dogs will be brought through the hallways, bathrooms, common areas, lockers, locker rooms and parking lots while students remain in their classrooms,” according to Principal Neil Sullivan and Superintendent Diane Ullman.[6] 

This is but the latest measure employed by the school district as it faced increases in arrest rates related to marijuana possession and sales. However, it has received its seal of approval from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE): “It’s a policy available because a prime mission of a school is to provide safety to its students. This is just one of a number of ways to [do so],” says CABE senior staff associate Vincent Mustaro.[7]

Metal Detectors or Dogs?

The Amity Regional Board of Education, however, has decided to up the ante. As of early summer, it was “considering approving a policy that would allow police canines to sniff an individual student in cases where there is reasonable suspicion that individual is in violation of the law or school rules.”[8] If passed, Amity would become the first school district to implement such measures, though it has already become the target of sharp criticism from parents, the ACLU of Connecticut, and even CABE itself.

“CABE’s position is not to sniff the person. I would not have a dog go up to a youngster. Our position is to use dogs to sniff inanimate objects, not persons,” explained Mustaro.[9] However, the State Department of Education declined to comment on the matter, noting it was a local issue. Some parents have supported the proposed action, with one notably writing on his Facebook wall, “Metal Detectors or Dogs. If they’re bringing in drugs into a school, it could be just as dangerous as a gun or a knife. Sniff away Fido!”[10]

Because the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to address the extent to which dog searches in schools are permissible, it is imperative, as a parent, that you understand your child’s rights by consulting an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school searches or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at


[1] Connecticut General Statutes § 54-33n.

[2] “Pet Statistics,” by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Accessed October 4, 2012:

[3] “Suspicionless Canine Sniffs: Does the Fourth Amendment Prohibit Public Schools From Using Dogs to Search Without Individualized Suspicion?” by Todd Feinberg, UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law & Policy, Vol. 11:2, pp.273. Summer 2007. Accessed October 4, 2012:

[4] The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse X: Teens and Parents (2005). Accessed October 4, 2012:

[5] Compare Doe v. Renfrow, 631 F.2d 91, 92 (7th Cir. 1980) (per curiam) (holding that canine sniffing ordered by school officials does not constitute a search) with B.C. v. Plumas Unified School District, No. 97-17287, 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 38863 (9th Cir. Sept. 20, 1999) and Horton v. Goose Creek Independent School District, 690 F.2d 470 (5th Cir. 1982) (holding that canine sniffing constitutes a search, thus implicating the Fourth Amendment).

[6] “Drug-Sniffing Dogs To Be Used In Drug Sweeps At Simsbury High School,” by Hillary Federico. Published February 16, 2012. Accessed October 4, 2012:

[7] Id.

[8] “Amity considers allowing drug-sniffing dogs to check students,” by Bridget Albert. Published June 2, 2012. Accessed October 4, 2012:

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

Random Drug Testing of Middle School Students on the Rise

Mandatory drug testing has become commonplace wherever we look. “Olympic athletes must submit urine samples to prove they are not doping. The same is true for Tour de France cyclists, N.F.L. players, college athletes, and even some high school athletes.”[1] A previous post on this website discusses in greater detail the permissible use of drug tests on students who wish to participate not only in sports but also in any other extracurricular school activity. This type of search is subject to a reasonableness standard, though exceptions may apply irrespective of whether or not the school district suspects your child is abusing illicit drugs. [2]

This brings me to my question of the day: is it reasonable to ask a middle school child, who wants to participate in her school’s scrapbooking club, to pee in a cup?

Random Drug Testing in Middle School

School districts in at least nine States – Connecticut not included – have extended the use of random drug tests to include middle school students. Administrators cite surveys that show early use of drugs; one superintendent in Oregon explained, “The hope is, if you know you’re going to be tested, you just don’t start using. We’re trying to break the cycle before it starts.”[3] A member of the Student Drug-Testing Coalition stated:

It starts early with kids. You want to get in there and plant these seeds of what’s out there and do prevention early. The 11th and 12th graders, most of them have already made a choice. But the eighth graders, they’re still making decisions, and it helps if you give them that deterrent.[4]

Critics question the effectiveness of drug testing. “There’s little evidence these programs work. Drug testing has never been shown to have a deterrent effect,” noted Dr. Linn Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg’s 2007 study of athletes at eleven high schools, half of which with drug testing and the other half without, “found that athletes from the two groups did not differ in their recent use of drugs or alcohol.”[5] 

Furthermore, civil rights groups and parents argue that the drug tests violate students’ privacy rights, and depending upon relevant state law, courts appear more willing to issue injunctions or other orders halting policies that are deemed unconstitutional.[6] Thus, it will be particularly interesting to see how this line of cases – random drug testing in middle schools – proceeds in courts nationwide, and whether it will culminate into the next Vernonia[7] or Earls.[8]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding drug testing in schools, school searches in general, or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at


[1] “Middle Schools Add a Team Rule: Get a Drug Test,” by Mary Pilon. Published September 22, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012:

[2] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at 60.

[3] “Some Ore. schools test for drugs in middle school,” by the Associated Press. Published September 23, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012:

[4] See Footnote 1.

[5] Id.

[6] See, e.g., “Judge Stops Enforcement of School District’s Suspicionless Drug Testing Policy,” by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Published July 26, 2011. Accessed October 10, 2012:

[7] Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995).

[8] Board of Education Independent School District No. 92 v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002).