Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Connecticut Police And School Scare The Shit Out Of Students

( October 22nd at Wolcott High School in Connecticut, an urgent announcement crackled over the intercom: a threatening intruder was in the building and students were told to immediately take refuge in classrooms.

Doors were locked and police, with dogs, moved in. Students stayed huddled in classrooms where they were told to stay away from the windows.

But what sounded like a frightening situation was just a search for narcotics. Drug-sniffing dogs combed the school while students stayed in locked classrooms, believing that an attacker was roaming the halls.

Drug-free schools are an admirable goal but I wonder when we reached the point where the war on drugs justifies police searches under the ruse of a Columbine-style attack.

How the fuck would you reacted?!!?

School officials said it was a routine lockdown drill, the kind that schools are required to do.

"We wanted to practice,'' said Superintendent of Schools Joseph McCary. "We said there was a lockdown with an intruder inside. Doors are locked, shades are drawn and the lights are turned off and students are told to move to a corner of the room."

"After 10 minutes we say this is a drill and at that point we started a search for drugs,'' McCary said. "We are providing a safe and secure nurturing environment."

No drugs turned up in the search. An email from the high school to parents explained the event, without mentioning the intruder story. It was described as a "lockdown intervention drill" where "two police dogs swept the hallway lockers, locker rooms and the student parking lot.''

Bringing in police dogs to search for drugs in student lockers, while not common, isn't the real outrage here. It's understandable why adults feel they must do something about drug abuse. It's the trickery and tactics that seem more suited to a police sting operation than a public school.

"I don't think the school administration and police department have any right to mislead these kids, under any circumstances, to conduct a public safety drill," said Carl Glendening, a parent of two high school students. "The kids are told there is an intruder and there is a lockdown and then they see cops coming in with dogs."

"Some kids were freaked out by it. The notion of Columbine was in the back of their minds,'' Glendening said. "We didn't think this through clearly."

"They are kids. They are students. They are not there to be used."

Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, called it a "terrible policy. It will cause more trouble in the long run. Young people will learn not to trust the police."

"It's a terrible civics lesson."

While state law requires schools to have regular emergency drills, drug-sniffing-dog searches are up to the individual school district. Canton schools recently attracted attention for surprise drug searches using dogs.

"The whole issue of search and seizure, you have to have reasonable suspicion, such as if they have had other issues in where the administration feels there's a drug problem in the school,'' said Vincent Mustaro of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. "This is one of those policies we consider optional."

School officials say it's not as if they think there's a drug problem in Wolcott. Bringing the dogs in "is precautionary," said school board Chairwoman Patricia Najarian, who added that she didn't see a problem with the fake intruder story.

"Maybe there's a few people who get nervous. When we say it's a surprise drill, it's a surprise drill,'' she said. "We have a very active group of citizens against substance abuse."

The drug search is "something that is good to do periodically. It says we don't have drugs in the school,'' she said. "Either way it's a win-win. I know people get concerned … there seems to be an overreaction."

McCary, the Wolcott superintendent, said they want to teach students to take their safety seriously, so making them think it was real was essential. "If you say it's just a drill, would you move as quickly?"

He makes a point, except that we don't set fires to get students to take fire drills more seriously. There's also another issue. If you say something important to teenagers and you want them to trust you, it's better not to lie.

No comments: