Springfield school district sued over searches

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) -- A southwest Missouri city councilman and his wife are suing a school district and a county sheriff after law officers used dogs to search students for drugs at a high school.

Springfield City Councilman Doug Burlison and his wife, Mellony, allege in their lawsuit that the Springfield public schools and the Greene County sheriff violates students' rights when it conducts such searches with no specific complaint.

"Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the gates of the schoolhouse and they do not forfeit their right to protections of the Fourth Amendment by attending public schools," the suit says.

The Burlisons' son attends Central High, where on April 22 students were told to leave their classrooms but not take their belongings during a search for drugs or other contraband. The Burlisons' daughter was unable to enter the school during the search.

Besides searches that took place in classrooms, the lawsuit says police dogs were guided through hallways to examine lockers and students throughout the school. If a dog alerted on a student, the suit says, police seized students and conducted a full search.

The school district has contended that dogs did not sniff at students.

The lawsuit seeks to stop future lockdowns and searches without suspicion. The Burlisons also are seeking actual and nominal damages for their son.

The searches "flagrantly disregard the privacy and constitutional rights of these students and undermine the American democratic form of government," the lawsuit said.

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter of complaint to the school district on behalf of the Burlisons. And Doug Burlison spoke at a June 15 school board meeting, but, according to the lawsuit, board members did not respond.

Ransom Ellis III, attorney for Springfield Public Schools, said the school district believes it did nothing wrong.

"There are a number of 8th Circuit Court of Appeals cases that support the conduct of the school district," said Ellis. "I don't see any violation of law whatsoever on the school district's part."

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