Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ohio school district to require students to undergo breathalyzer before entering school dance. Is it constitutional?

The Columbus Dispatch today is reporting that students at Medina High School, in Medina, Ohio, will have to take a breathalzyer test before attending the school's sweatheart dance.

The new rule takes effect as a result of two students showing up drunk to the school's homecoming dance.

But is the school district permitted to take such a step under the U.S. Constitution? Maybe. Almost thirty years ago, the Ohio Attorney General issued an opinion that school boards may administer breath tests when students are suspected of having consumed alcoholic beverages. The board has to have found that such rules and regulations are ncessary to the effective management of their schools. 1983 OAG No. 012.

Nonetheless, such a policy must still conform to constitutional mandates, no matter what the Attorney General believes. If a particular student is reasonably believed to be under the influence, there seems to be not much doubt that a student could be required to undergo a breathalyzer. The odor of alcohol and impaired behavior may be enough to reach the "reasonable" standard in this context. See e.g. Martinez v. School Dist. No. 60, 852 P.2d

The more difficult question is can the test be required to ALL students before entering the school dance. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld random, suspicionless drug testing of all students engaged in competitive extracurricular activities. However, courts generally require such testing policies set forth adequate safeguards to ensure reliability, privacy during testing, and confidentiality of results. See e.g. Crager v. Bd. of Educ., 313 F. Supp. 2d 690 (6th Cir. 2004). It seems likely that the breath-testing will be done in front of a number of people, including other students, and that the results will not remain private (students would be denied admission at the door). Furthermore, since high school students are not allowed to legally consume alcohol, the threat of prosecution may face those who test positive. However, the argument exists that extracurricular activities like school dances are voluntary affairs, and that the student's interests to be free from search and seizure are diminished.

In the end, there is no clear answer as to whether or not all students can be forced to undergo breath tests before entering the school dance. On a whole, when viewed in light of existing precedent, the case law seems to be on the side of the school district.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Student search by school official constitutional even if tip came from law enforcement, appeals court rules

A divided Fifth District Court of Appeals held today that the search of a student for drugs was constitutional, even though the school official who searched the student was given the tip by a law enforcement officer.

In that case, an assistant principal was given a tip by a deputy sheriff stationed inside the school that a student in the school may have been dealing heroin. The assistant principal then requested that the student come to the office with his bookbag. The assistant principal and the deputy sheriff both testified that the school official did so at the school official's sole request, and not at the behest of the deputy sheriff. During the search, drugs were found and the student was subsequently prosecuted.

The legal question to be answered by the court was what standard was required to justify the search. Generally, school officials can conduct searches when they believe that school rules and regulations have been violated, so long as the search is reasonable under the circumstances. This is a much more relaxed standard than the probable cause standard, which is generally required to conduct most searches.

The student had argued that, because the search was initiated as a result of the law enforcement officer tipping off the assistant principal, the probable cause standard should control. However, the prosecution argued, and the trial court held, that because the school official was working independently, and not at the behest of, the law enforcement officer, the reasonableness standard should prevail.

The Court of Appeals, 2-1, agreed with the trial court that the lower "reasonableness" standard should control. Because, in its opinion, the search was reasonable under the circumstances, the search of the student was constitutional.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals handles cases from Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas Counties.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jury convicts woman accused of enrolling children in wrong district

The Akron Beacon Journal is reporting that a woman accused of enrolling her children in the wrong school district has been convicted of tampering with records, in violation of ORC 2913.42, a felony of the third degree. In what may be an unprecedented case brought by prosecutors, the woman could face five years in prison.

At the center of the case, prosecutors allege, was that the mother falsified official school registration forms to enroll her children in the Fairborn school district, even though she lived in city of Akron. Prosecutors also alleged that the woman was using her father's address in the scheme.

Prosecutors also had brought grand theft charges against the woman, saying she owed the District in excess of $30,000 for two years education in the District. The jury was unable to come to a verdict on those charges and a mistrial was declared on those charges.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

School Board terminates teacher's contract, adopts referee's recommendation

The Mount Vernon School Board of Education voted this week to terminate the contract of a teacher accused of, among other things, violating school board policies, violating the U.S. Constitution, and teaching Christianity in class. In their 4-1 vote, the school board adopted the decision of the "referee" or hearing officer.

Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 3319.16, public school teachers employed pursuant to a contract may only have that contract terminated for "good and just cause." Before such termination may take place, however, the school board has to give the teacher notice of intention, and an opportunity for a hearing in front of either the board, or a referee. Both parties may be present at such hearing, be represented by counsel, subpoena witnesses, require witnesses to be under oath, cross-examine witnesses, take a record of the proceedings. The referee must then furnish her report, recommending a termination or not. The board must then vote to adopt the report and recommendation or to reject it by majority vote.

The teacher affected then has the opportunity to appeal the case to the court of common pleas in which the school is located.