ACLU Criticizes Perham High School's Prom Breathalyzer Plan

Affiliate: ACLU of Minnesota
May 1, 2014 12:00 am

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Requiring students to pass a breathalyzer before being admitted to prom violates their rights

May 1, 2014

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St. Paul, Minn –The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota sharply criticized Perham High School’s decision to require all students attending the high school’s prom on Saturday to take a breathalyzer test before admittance.

In a letter sent to school officials, ACLU-MN executive director Charles Samuelson, urged the school to reject the breath search plan because it is "likely unconstitutional, and ineffective." At the same time the ACLU-MN sent a letter to the Perham Police Department criticizing their involvement in a program that has little legal grounds.

The Fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution have protections that protect students from suspicionless searches. Furthermore, the Minnesota School Boards Association Model Policy 502, "only allows for searches of a student’s person when there exists reasonable suspicion that the search will uncover a violation of the law or school rules." Court decisions generally forbid the practice of suspicionless searches of students, with narrow exceptions for student athletes.

The letter highlights ways that the school could decrease underage drinking that would not violate students' rights including, "providing access to an on-site school counselor with training and experience in recognizing the symptoms or risk facts for substance abuse and, most importantly creating a school environment that supports relationship of trust between students and mentors, coaches, and teachers."

"By requiring breathalyzer tests, the district would be teaching students the wrong civics lesson," stated Charles Samuelson, "you imply that students are guilty until proven innocent instead of innocent until proven guilty."

The letter was sent to the superintendent of the school district, the school board and Perham Police Department. The ACLU-MN also sent Perham Police Department another letter that explains why they should not be involved in the process.

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