April 25, 2018
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High school drug search gets MCLU response

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

UNION, Maine — The superintendent of SAD 40 gave a report to the school board Thursday night about a recent lockdown and drug search that was conducted last month at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro.

Shortly after the Oct. 25 drill and drug search, the Maine Civil Liberties Union sent a letter of complaint to the school district citing the students’ “constitutionally protected right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”

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During a more than three-hour school board meeting Thursday at Union Elementary School, Superintendent Francis N. Boynton explained that on Oct. 25 the high school had a lockdown drill and drug search that lasted about 50 minutes. Students and staff were kept in their classrooms as police K-9 units sniffed student lockers for drugs. The dogs alerted police to drug smells emanating from 12 lockers, at which point all of the students’ belongings were removed, the students were called out of their classes, and the students and an administrator sifted through the belongings. No drugs were found.

Waldoboro Police Chief Bill Labombarde attended the meeting Thursday night and said that although no drugs were found in the lockers, drugs or drug residue likely had been in the singled-out lockers at some point since the start of school when they last were cleaned. The school’s principal, Harold Wilson, told the board that some of the suspected students examined after the drill smelled of marijuana.

Boynton spoke to the importance of preparedness and keeping students safe.

“Eighteen years ago I lost one of my children,” he said. The infant died of natural causes, “but it was one of the most dramatic things a parent can go through. I dedicated myself to not let that happen. I will not let that happen on my watch. That’s what this drill was about; it was about keeping [children] safe.”

Boynton said that last year the high school had eight marijuana-related incidents, four other drug incidents and 14 tobacco incidents.

The board remained largely quiet on the issue, with the exception of member Gail Hawes, who expressed concern about the drill churning the rumor mill.

“It was clear who the students were who were being hauled out of the classes. Maybe they live with an uncle who smokes pot regularly. That kid might be an honors student who keeps his nose clean,” Hawes said. “You know the rumor mill just as I do; it goes around.”

Hawes said if her daughter were accused in front of her classmates of possessing drugs, she likely would not return to school.

“I’m worried about when kids feel like they’re singled out,” she said. “It has got to be more discreet because when you’re 15 or 16, those things stick with you for life.”

Shortly after the October drill and drug search, the MCLU sent a letter of complaint to the school district.

“Students have a constitutionally protected right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. If the searches during this training exercise were conducted without cause, they were conducted in contradiction to the spirit of the Constitution,” the MCLU wrote. “Law enforcement and schools have a duty to uphold the Constitution, and locking students and teachers in classrooms while their belongings are searched is incompatible with the Constitution.”

The MCLU offered to come into the district’s high school and teach ninth- through 12th-graders about their rights.

Boynton has not yet responded to the letter or the MCLU’s offer. He said Thursday night that he is working on a response.

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