The drug sweep of the Plymouth Canton Educational Park’s parking lots on October 31, 2007 found alcohol in three students’ cars and an illegal drug in another car. The unannounced search has students debating what rights they have while at school.
A team of Canton Township police officers and canine units inspected all cars on school property. Over 47 cars were searched after dogs gave positive responses, but only four contained drugs or alcohol.
“When I first found out that they were searching our cars, it made me mad because I felt kind of invaded,” said Plymouth junior Stewart Bobo. “I know that we don’t have many rights, since we’re kids going to school, but it made me feel like my privacy was being invaded in that they have full authority to just come and search my car if they wanted to.”
Kyle Callahan, another Plymouth junior, disagreed with Bobo. Callahan argued that people that have nothing to hide would not care, and that searches are good for P-CEP.
“I think it’s necessary for cops to do that every once in a while because it makes the school more safe,” Callahan said. “If kids want to do illegal stuff like that, they should do it somewhere else.”
Margaret Landis, a teacher at Salem, said there is a drug problem at the high schools, and the sweep was an attempt by the administration to see what they could find. According to Landis, the drug sweep was ineffective because the police were looking for drugs in the wrong places.
“I felt that if they really wanted to get the true story, they should have went into the lockers, because that’s where it would have been, not in the cars,” Landis said. “I really don’t think they’re going to find much until they come inside the school.”
In response to students saying they should have more privacy in schools, Landis said that they have the same rights as adults do, and that if they are doing nothing wrong, there is nothing to be concerned with.
“A lot of the kids think ‘they have no right to search me,’ and we have every right,” Landis said. “I had a student who was reported to have brought a weapon to school. He didn’t end up having one, but he was bragging that he had a knife, and he wouldn’t open his backpack. He was screaming at the police ‘you have no right to search me,’ and they took him down to the ground and searched him. They have every right to search him like they have every right to search us.”
The Supreme Court ruled on students’ rights at school in the New Jersey v. T.L.O case of 1984, where a girl was on trial after school authorities searched her purse and found marihuana with intent to sell. The court ruled that the rights found in the fourth amendment pertain to students, but that schools hold the right to search any student or their belongings if they have any reasonable suspicion that could disrupt the learning environment.
Students at P-CEP also sign away any privacy pertaining to parking in school lots. When they purchase a parking pass, students agree to a list of regulations. Number 19 on the list of regulations states: “automobiles on school property are subject to search by school officials if there is any reasonable suspicion that any illegal or unauthorized materials are in or on the automobile.”
Even so, students still argue for more privacy rights. “Well, it’s no secret high school kids do drugs,” said Nick Johnson, a 2005 graduate of Canton. “But searching student cars, let alone all cars, seems a bit overzealous and immoral.”
Kelly Nicholson, another Canton graduate, said that she is torn between the two sides of the debate.
“On one hand, it is school property and it is a school’s job is to promote a good learning environment,” Nicholson said. “But then there’s also the whole private property issue.”
Nicholson went on to say that if authorities have reasonable suspicion, then they should search the students, because it is a school’s obligation to keep the area drug free. However, if it “is random, and there is no evidence to support it”, then a search violates the students’ rights.