In a nearly indecipherable decision, two of three judges of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled last week that the Little Rock public schools could no longer do random searching of bags and lockers. However, they said it would be OK to search the entire building and all students if there were clues of drugs and weapons being brought to school.
Just think how difficult it would be to search a school like Central High School with 2,000 students. It became such a burden that the safety and security department stopped doing door searches and went to using hand wands to search a few lockers and students in unannounced classrooms.
This case started in 1998 when a random search at Horace Mann Middle School turned up marijuana in the purse of a seventh-grade girl. Her lawyers went to federal court arguing that the search violated Amendment 4 to the U.S. Constitution, which says: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated..." Judge Stephen Reasoner ruled in favor of the school, probably thinking that in 1791 the writers of Amendment 4 couldn't dream of the millions of public buildings filled with people in the United States that maniacal people might want to destroy or defile.
So the girl's lawyers appealed to the 8th Circuit. One of the three judges, Arlen Beam of Lincoln, Neb., agreed with what Reasoner had ruled (random searches in schools are OK), but he joined his two partners in overturning Reasoner's decision because the school told the Little Rock police that the girl possessed illegal marijuana. In other words, Beam and the other two judges said that schools are for education, not police work.
The Little Rock School District has not decided whether to appeal to the entire 8th Circuit Court to review the decision. I hope it will. While two federal justices thought random searches are illegal, two others, Reasoner and Beam, believed they were OK. So I think there's a good chance that a majority of the 22 judges would allow random searches
Public schools where attendance is required should have this right. If kids know that they, their locker and their room can be searched at any time, they will think before bringing drugs or guns to school.
Since the desegregation crisis in Little Rock in 1957, drugs and guns have often been found among students. Lately, the number has decreasd - only two guns were found in the last school year - but it could easily increase. An interesting series in the Arkansas Democrat- Gazette this week tells that gangs of young people in Little Rock have killed 40 persons since 2001. While the number of gangs has reduced, there are at least 25 active ones with 400 members.
What is equally scary is that Little Rock Police Chief Lawrence Johnson said that while he needed more officers to investigate gangs, the most pressing problem is the growing use of crack and methamphetamine. And he doesn't have either the money or the manpower to deal with them.
Autumn is fast approaching, which most Arkansans believe is the best season because it means football. For example:
For the first time, there will be a football game on national TV every night from Oct. 28 to Nov. 15th, arranged by college presidents who tell us that education must always come before athletics. On the night we vote for president, Toledo will play Miami University of Ohio. Interviewed by Frank Deford on National Public Radio, Miami Coach Terry Hoeppner said: "A lot of people on election night will be looking for an alternative. I think it will be one of the most watched games this year."
Sept. 11, the University of Arkansas will play the University of Texas in Fayetteville 35 years after the historic game (called the "Big Shootout") in 1969 that determined the national champion. With fans like President Nixon, George H. Bush and Rev. Billy Graham in the stands, the Texans won in a last minute fluke, 15-14. Early this year, the UA invited the Arkansas and Texas players and coaches to attend a commemoration of the 1969 game at halftime.
However, in July Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles, who was the coach in 1969, canceled the halftime ceremony. He said that since Arkansas fans are still mad about that game, they would boo the Texas people. "We might even have a fight, an altercation," he said. So if you are a real football fan, you should believe Arkansans could start a riot because of something that happened 35 years ago.