DETROIT – In a consent judgment approved by the court this week, Detroit Public Schools agreed to end the practice of conducting mass student searches without suspicion of wrongdoing. In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two honor students at Mumford High School whose belongings were searched every day in violation of a previous court order prohibiting such unconstitutional searches.

“This is an incredible victory for students, parents and educators who rightly believe our schools are not Constitution-free zones,” said Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project staff attorney. “We do not make our kids safer by needlessly trampling on their constitutional rights. This order ensures student safety without effectively turning our schoolhouses into jailhouses.”

In November 2009, the ACLU of Michigan, after being contacted by several students, sent a letter to Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb warning him of the serious constitutional and human rights concerns related to the suspicionless searches of every students’ personal belongings as they entered Mumford High School. The ACLU of Michigan reminded Bobb that such mass searches not only violate students’ constitutional rights, but also a court ordered agreement DPS negotiated with the ACLU of Michigan in 2006 to settle a lawsuit challenging similar mass searches.

Despite ACLU warnings, DPS continued the searches and in December 2009, the ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit. In February 2010, Judge Marianne O. Battani issued a temporary injunction halting the mass student searches. This week’s class action consent judgment permanently protects all students in the district from these invasive and unconstitutional searches. Under the negotiated policy changes, school officials may no longer search students’ clothing, backpacks or other items unless they have reasonable suspicion that both the student has violated school rules and the search will reveal evidence of the violation. Metal detectors may be used at entrances to detect weapons. In addition, DPS agreed to allow students to return to class after they successfully pass through the metal detectors.

“I hope this settlement is a clear message to our schools that as we guide our children to do the right thing and follow the law, we hold ourselves to the same standards,” said Sharon Kelso, a plaintiff in the case whose granddaughter attends Mumford High School. “I hope this is the last time our children’s trust will be broken by the very people who have committed to protect them.”

In addition to Fancher, the attorneys representing the students are ACLU Cooperating Attorney Amos Williams, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney Daniel Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss.