On December 13, 2012 law enforcement conducted a search of the Camden Hills Regional High School. The goal of the search was to find drugs. The search was approved by the school and conducted by the Rockport Police Chief, a Rockport Deputy, two Lincoln County Sheriff Deputies, and two drug sniffing dogs named Olga and Coda. All stated facts are based upon a Penobscot Bay Pilot article that can be read here.
During the course of the search the two dogs gave a positive indication that drugs were in a student’s backpack. Administrators opened the student’s backpack and found…nothing. Law enforcement then took the dogs to the parking lot and had them circle the student’s automobile. Again, the dogs gave a positive indication of drugs. One might be reasonable to question the reliability of the dogs since at this point they were 0-1. School administrators, again, believed the dogs and opened and searched the student’s automobile. This time they were rewarded with one joint.
These events raise the question of whether or not a student’s vehicle at a public high school should be allowed to be search by school administrators? The United States Supreme Court has never addressed this issue but has recently taken up two dog drug sniffing cases. The Maine State Supreme Court has never addressed this issue.
It’s time to make clear what rights students at public school do or do not have. Do students give up all of their constitutional rights when they enter onto school property? Do they keep some rights but forfeit others? If yes, which rights? Should high school students be given more constitutional protections than middle school or elementary school students? Should school lockers be allowed to be searched but automobiles not be allowed to be searched? Should drugs sweeps be allowed? In other words, should drug dogs be allowed to sniff every locker? Every bag? Every automobile? Every student? Or should only focused searches be allowed? Should there be articulable suspicion for focused searches?
There are many questions and very few answers because the U.S. Supreme Court and the Maine State Supreme Court have failed to address these important issues. As of now, schools and states will randomly do as they see fit until such time the courts address these issues. Schools are a place were society sends its children to learn but shouldn’t it also be a place where students can see the practical effects of the lessons they learn. It is not enough for students to learn about the Bill of Rights, students must be allow to experience the constitutional rights that they have when they walk outside the school’s protective environment.