In July 2016 a 13-year-old student was forced to withdraw from a summer school program run by a public school district because he did not consent to a daily pat-down frisk and a search of his backpack. The teenager’s father had recently passed away, and his mother was unable to locate a firearm that had been legally owned and registered in the father’s name. Although there was no evidence that their son had taken the gun or posed any danger to the school, school administrators insisted on searching the 13-year-old as a condition of his entering the school building each morning.
The ACLU of Michigan wrote a letter to the school district warning that such searches were a violation of the student’s Fourth Amendment rights unless they were based on reasonable suspicion that he was violating a law or school rule and that their search would uncover evidence of such a violation. To pass constitutional muster, suspicion must be particularized and grounded in fact; mere speculation or a generalized fear could not justify singling a student out for such invasive and stigmatizing treatment. In response to our letter the school district agreed that the student would no longer be subject to the searches when he returned to school in the fall.
(ACLU Attorney Dan Korobkin; Cooperating Attorney Lisa Schmidt.)