Concerns about the constitutionality of the La Cañada Unified School District’s search-and-seizure practices caused district board members this week to set about bringing those policies in line with state and federal requirements.
And additional concerns about the way proposed policy changes were written have sent district officials back to their word processors to do a better job of crafting them.
Worries about the policy’s constitutionality were precipitated last year after the district sent drug-sniffing dogs onto La Cañada High’s campus unannounced. Students were told to leave their backpacks and other belongings behind in the classroom. They were taken to another location on campus while the dogs sniffed the area and the students’ personal items.
Guy Iversen, a 22-year federal public defender and the father of two sons at La Cañada High who were subject to that search, spoke to the board about last year’s search.
""Technically, if you don’t have justification, that’s a kidnapping,” Iversen said. “The physical aspertation of a person against their will without justification is a kidnapping.”
Iversen contends that the district infringed on student’s rights during last year’s search.
“When they were separated from their personal belongings against their will — without reasonable suspicion — their constitutional rights were violated,” Iversen said.
Iversen said he’s been in negotiations with the district for the past three months regarding a potential lawsuit. He said he’s happy to work with the district, but he wants three things: He wants remedial sanctions, a written letter of apology to his sons and to be allowed to address La Cañada High’s students in an assembly to educate them about their rights.
“If they don’t give that to me, I do have a potential lawsuit,” Iversen said. “I told them, ‘Give me these three things and I’ll waive, but I’m not going away without them.’”
“If I was litigious, I would have filed a lawsuit 14 months ago,” Iversen said.
“We were made aware those practices weren’t legal,” said Wendy Sinnette, LCUSD’s assistant superintendent of human resources. “This is one of the reasons we’re making these revisions.”
There were four main changes proposed for the school policy, but these were not accepted for the board’s consideration because of concerns about the way they were written.
First, student lockers would be suspect to be searched at any time “with or without reasonable individualized suspicion,” since they are district property. Secondly, metal detectors could be used to search individuals on or off campus at school activities.
The third proposed change would allow trained detection canines to come on campus unannounced “to sniff out and alert to substances prohibited by law or district policy.” The dogs wouldn’t be permitted into classrooms or district facilities unoccupied by students and students couldn’t be forced to leave personal belongings behind for the dogs to sniff.
Another proposed change stated that canines would only be allowed to sniff a student, patron, visitor or any other individual on district property if there was an “objectively reasonable suspicion” they were in the possession of contraband.
Iversen said these proposed revisions are “so screwed up” because they don’t meet the goal of aligning with the law.
“The policy proposed is incomprehensible,” Iversen said. “I don’t know who they had writing it.”
Joel Peterson, a school board member, admitted the proposed revision to the policy was poorly crafted.
“Just reading through this document shows it was not well drafted,” Peterson said. “There’s typos all over the place, its grammatically confusing, etc.”
Jeanne Broberg, president of the governing board, said Tuesday night was an eye-opening experience.
“We see we have a great need,” Broberg said.