drugs, guns and school

sit back, relax, and take a minute to read this dilemma

I just finished talking to a friend a couple minutes ago who told me a wonderul story about his past week and how its been rather hectic. My friend, “Gavin”, is a junior at a private Catholic HS in Ohio. Gavin is not a druggie, does not own or possess a gun and is not suicidal. He’s a good kid. Gets A’s, is on the Rowing team and stays out of trouble. Apparently a week or two ago, he went to a party and got into an altercation with another kid, some words were said but no fighting ensued. The next school day a annonymous caller left a message to the Associate Principal saying that Gavin has a shotgun in his car, with shells and is having suicidal thoughts. The message went on to say that Gavin was addicted to drugs. The AP then decided that since a gun was involved, it wsa his responsibility to call the police. The police came to the school and searched Gavin’s car, without notifying Gavin or his parents, and found nothing. Gavin was then put under surveilence by the police for the rest of the day. Gavin had no idea this was going on. Gavin was then called into the AP’s office for a talk. The AP asked is he was on drugs or had any suicidal thoughts, which Gavin denied. The AP then told him to see the Guidence couselor where he was asked these questions again. Gavin told him the same thing. When Gavin got home that night, his parents where waiting for his arrival. They explained what had happened, the whole annonymous caller deal and the ensuing search for the truth. Gavin’s room was searched by his parents, turning up nothing. The next day the AP has another talk with Gavin, this time he’s telling(forcing) Gavin to see a psychiatrist and that he needs to take a drug test! Gavin go to the doc and tells him that he’s perfectly normal. The AP still does not belive that Gavin is telling the truth. So… my questions are:
Did the AP have a right to search Gavins car w/o notifying him first?
Does the AP have a right to enforce a drug test to Gavin?
Can Gavin sue the school for emotional distress? (he was very wigged out about the whole ordeal)
Do you think that this ordeal could have ended after the search came up with nothing? (No drugs were found, no guns/ammo was found.)
Did the AP overreact, thanks to other gun incidents at schools (i.e. Columbine)?
Can Gavin refuse the drug test? (he’s only 16)

“I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.”-- Calvin and Hobbes
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First answer: If Gavin wants to fight any of these things and possibly sue, he needs to get a lawyer to get good answers. My answers here are just my opinion, though I, of course, think I’m right. :slight_smile:

I don’t believe so. The cops should have needed a search warrant.

I can’t imagine that he does.

He can sue for anything – the question is whether a judge and jury will buy it.

Frankly, it never should have begun. Using an anonymous tipster and taking it to those lengths is ridiculous.


I would think so, but again, he needs to get an attorney.

Oh, this makes me so glad I’m not in high school any more…

I second David B’s advice – Gavin needs to get a lawyer ASAP. If he can’t afford one, it may help to get in touch with the ACLU or another civil rights organization. In general, students in private schools have fewer rights than in public schools, but he may have a case – searching a car without informing the owner seems like an extreme violation of his civil rights. (Unless, of course, he or his parents signed a form giving consent to random searches, or there’s a clause in the school regulations to that effect. He should check his records and the student handbook to see whether the principal was within his rights.)

If possible, he should also get his parents and / or his clergyman to put some pressure on the school administration. They may back off on the drug test, especially if they think the church won’t stand behind them.

On registration day at taxidermy school
I distinctly saw the eyes of the stuffed moose

  • Gavin Gunhold

New this year at my children’s middle school: I had to sign an acknowledgement/ consent form saying that their lockers, backpacks, binders, coats, etc. could be searched on ‘reasonable’ suspicion

While I agree that the best resolution if the AP refuses to back down may involve consulting a lawyer, how about going up the internal chain of command, first?

Has Gavin (and his parents) talked to the Principal, yet? Escalated to the board of governors?

In the current environment (in-school shootings, teenage suicide, U.S. drug paranoia, etc.) the AP initially was just doing his job (and may actually feel a genuine concern for Gavin). If he is now stonewalling regarding his decisions, it may be a CYA thing or something else could be going on. He may need nothing more than the assurance that he (and the school) won’t be held liable if Gavin does flip out (after refusing to admit a problem) and he may need the official support of his superiors to make that decision.

He could, of course, simply be an anal-retentive prig who needs to have a ferocious lawyer sicced on him, but there is not enough info in the OP to make that call.

We all know that Gavin is perfectly normal (because we all trust the OP implicitly), of course. What would happen to the AP, however, if Gavin (who has refused counselling) did go nuts and it turns out that the AP (in the eyes of the news media) simply “suggested” a psych eval after “being warned” (however anonymously and with whatever obvious lies).


Actually, the answer here is “most likely, yes”. Courts have held that schools can search student lockers, possessions, and person without a warrant. Student cars would seem to be a logical extension, though I do not know that it has been addressed specifically.

A private school has the right to set pretty much any standard for admission or continuation. While they cannot force Gavin to take a drug test, they can expel him for refusal. Should he take the test and fail, he could be expelled. Actually, he could be expelled at any time, for any (or no) reason, unless otherwise stipulated by contract.

I’ll vote with DavidB on this one.

Well, the anonymous caller could have been correct (just last week locally an anonymous tip led to the arrest of a student in possession of a .25 caliber pistol). The AP obviously had no way to know. Does he have a reponsibility to protect his students? Absolutely. Even to protect Gavin from himself, of necessary? Yes. Some action should have been taken, BUT:

Having said that, I do think they went about this all wrong. Perhaps the AP could have called Gavin into the office and gotten his parent(s) on the phone, explained what had happened, and asked for permission to search the car. If permission was refused, I believe the AP would have been justified in suspending Gavin from school until the matter could be investigated.

And Yes, Columbine et al has had an effect on school administrators’ psyche. Balancing individual student rights against the protection powers given schools will be a major issue for the forseeable future.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

Minors have no rights; the school has full power* in loco parentis*.

Also, employees cede all their rights as a condition of employment. You don’t have to submit proof that your not using drugs, an illegal alien, a communist, or under psychiatric care, but refusal to go along is standing grounds for termination.

And the police can stop and search you if you meet certain objective criteria for suspicion (you’re black and walking through a high-crime neighborhood).

And if the IRS says you owe them five million dollars in back taxes, you owe them five million. You’re supposed to pay up; then they’ll refund your money if you can prove they were mistaken.

And if the police say you are a drug dealer, then they can take your home, car, bank account, life insurance and jewelry as the proceeds of crime. Of course if you’re not a drug dealer, you still have to sue to get any of it back.

And you can be stopped at a roadblock anytime so the police can make sure you’re not DUI or have contraband in your car.

In short, we are all fucking serfs, with no goddamn rights at all against our lord and master, the government. It’s time we pick up our guns while we still have them and kill the next sonnabitch who tells us to drop our pants and bend over.

Ok, maybe that last post was a little intemperate.

For the record: I do not own a gun. I am not a member of a militia. I don’t own any ammonium nitrate fertilizer. I don’t pronounce the word “gubmint”.

I am strongly libertarian however, and I get these vengence fantasies whenever I brood about abuses of power.

Remain calm.

Submit to the drug test. Get the psychiatrist’s evaluation in writing. In general, kiss the AP’s butt, which he’s trying so hard to cover.

Next, retain a lawyer. No, we’re not going to sue their pants off; they didn’t violate any civil rights (in loco parentis is a solid legal theory; I lived under it for sixteen years of Catholic school) because he sacrifices them twice by being a minor and by enrolling in a private school.

All this lawyer is going to do for you is write a letter detailing Gavin’s statements to the AP and the guidance counselor, as well as the negative results of the police search and the parent’s search and the drug test. At the end, the lawyer politely suggests that his letter be included in any official record of this incident.

This does two things for you. One, it gets the record straight. Two, it allows you to make the principal’s butt pucker for a moment when he sees the letterhead you just paid a couple of hundred bucks for.

And that’s all. Shake the principal’s hand, look him in the eye, thank him for his concern in protecting the students of St. Augustine High.

The A.P. was doing the right thing to protect his students, even though there was nothing to protect them from. The drug test and the psych eval are just him being thorough.

A letter from a lawyer gives you just enough stature in the A.P.'s eyes that it doesn’t happen again.

Now that I’m done being docile, let me jump on Lumpy’s Bandwagon of Fury.

My little brother got in a similar scrape and faced felony charges for an assault that never happened (not a scratch on anyone, I assure you). He pleaded down to a misdemeanor, but he still has a record for something that he didn’t do. Once the police get a hold of a complaint, it’s a nasty grinder to go through.

On the whole, juvenile justice and school administration types need to re-read the accounts of the Salem witch trials. Juvenile witnesses are never reliable, nor are the anonymous.

At least Gavin has good grist for a senior thesis on due process and the right to face one’s accusers.

“You can’t tell me what sucks!” - Beavis, a true Objectivist

Oooh Oooh oh can I bitch and moan, too?! Okay. When I was sixteen, I ran a stop sign in front of a guys house. He chased me down in his truck, ran me off the road, tried to yank me out of the car by my neck, and screamed obscenities at me for about 20 minutes, right in front of one of my best friends’ house, with his parents watching. I told him I was sixteen and he better watch his sorry ass or he’d go to jail and lose everything he fucking had. About then he let go and left. My ear was red and my neck was slightly (ever so) bruised.

Anyway, knowing this was assault and battery, including endangerment (I had 3 others in the car with me when he forced me off the road) I went and found a cop. Too bad dickweed was already there. The cop was the only one we had in town, off duty. I gave him my license and told him what happened, and asked him to file assault and battery charges against the guy, he laughed in my face. “Boy, you don’t know what the fuck assault and battery is!” The man starts screaming about how his kids play in that road (!!!) and I could have hit one. Never mind that his machinery (he does some sort of excavating shit) CONSTANTLY blocks the road almost completely, and totally obscures the stop sign, so even though I DID know it was there, there was no way I could have seen it. Anyway, when the officer hears that his “kids play in that road” he tells me that if he had seen me do it, he would have “yanked my punk ass out of the car and beat the fuck out of me too!” So I tell him that I do know what the fuck assault and battery is, and that he has just verbally assaulted me. That kind of shut him up, and he made the guy walk about a block down the road and wait while I talked to him. We went over what happened, but he still insisted that “I can’t do anything about it because there’s no evidence” (never mind the angry ear, the bruised neck, and the seven witnesses), and if I wanted something done, I could file a civil complaint (!!!) at City Hall the next day. So basically, jack shit came of this. But I did attend a speech by a lawyer the next week, and when it was over I had the pleasure of meeting him and discussing a possible case against this man, and the lawyer told me that I had 3 years before the statute of limitations was up, so think it over all I want. BTW, I have the entire incident documented in a notebook, detail for detail, including the fact that none of his machinery nor trucks have licensing on them, and the fact that they block the road 24/7/365. This may sound fucked up, but trust me, it was even worse. For a few minutes, I thought the officer was going to hit me himself, even though I was being fucking respectful. He was feeding off of the bastard who tried to kill me. So, my question is, have you ever seen a duck with three legs? Seriously, what do you guys think of this?

We are the children of the Eighties. We are not the first “lost generation” nor today’s lost generation; in fact, we think we know just where we stand - or are discovering it as we speak.

Why does no one else wonder what I wonder as to this one? Perhaps the facts aren’t available, but the OP tends to indicate they may be.

OK, the call to the AP was anonymous, but the OP ties the call in to a previous altercation at a party, whether it was or not. I would conclude that either Gavin knows the name of the guy he had words with at the party or he knows people who can tell him the name.

It seems to me, if I were the AP (well, I wouldn’t be seen dead associated with a Catholic institution), after about the second negative result from the investigation, I would be inquiring of Gavin who might want to get him into trouble, and either Gavin would mention the name of his opponent at the party or give the AP names of persons who would probably know same. If the guy at the party were actually a student at the school, the AP would have direct authority to grill the guy. But since the cops were in on the investigation right away, I would think they would immediately want to talk to such a person and could do so effectively whether that person had any relationship to the school or not.

Maybe the AP was, from prior encounters, unhappy with Gavin. Getting to the person who made an anonymous call that was turning up false hits probably wouldn’t, under the present atmosphere at least, slow a desire of the AP and police to search anything reasonable for weapons, but it could get a counterthrust going that might allow immediate termination of what could be activity that would measurably disturb normal school activities.

What say the cowgod on this? Does he know if Gavin could’ve immediately given useful info to the AP or cops, along these lines? If the anonymous one could be named, he surely ought to be named as liable in any lawsuit, and no doubt he could be criminally charged, the way the OP reads. And was the principal around?


I went to 16 years of Catholic schools, and never got into any serious trouble, but let me offer my insights:

By now, it is obvious to any objective observer that the anonymous caller was probably making shit up. What Gavin should do is walk into the principal’s office, ask to see the principal, and politely ask him/her to, in effect, “put up or shut up”. That is, explain to Gavin what cause they have to be suspicious or concerned. Once they vocalize it, they may realize just how groundless their actions are. (This is assuming that the concerns ARE grounless, of course). It wouldn’t hurt to mention that he understands their concerns, given the recent school shootings. If he handles the situation with maturity, that could do more than a lawyer could to pacify the situation.

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

As far as I know, the AP has no beef with Gavin. I went to the same HS as this kid and had the AP for a teacher in a couple classes and know that he is a nice guy. He wouldn’t set him up or go to lengths to make his life hell.

“Does he know if Gavin could’ve immediately given useful info to the AP or cops, along these lines? If the anonymous one could be named, he surely ought to be named as liable in any lawsuit, and no doubt he could be criminally charged, the way the OP reads. And was the principal around?”

If it was an annonymous call, then the caller didn’t reveal his name and therefore no one knows his identity. However Gavin does have ideas of who it could have been, but no concrete proof to back any of it up. What Gavin thinks happened was that the guy he had words with talked to a group of friends about what happened and one of them called in the message to get back at him. Gavin didn’t tell me whether or not the Principal was getting invovled or not, but I’m sure he should be anytime soon.

Gavin has done everything that the AP has asked for so far, except for the test. Gavin does not do drugs anymore, he has told me that he has smoked weed a couple times, but was just experimenting and was under peer pressure to do so. (The last time he did anything was 5 weeks ago, according to Gavin.) This is why he is reluctant to take the test, he’s afraid the one thing he did a month before this problem is gonna make him look like he’s lying about being an addict. The school also has a no tolerence policy on drugs, so if he fails its a good chance he’ll be kicked out. I now think the school had a right to search his car, to protect the other kids just in case it was true. Do I think he should have been followed around by police and forced into conseling and the drug test? NO. Everything that the caller said that Gavin did or was planning on doing has been found as false, so why continue with this charade? True that private schools have their own rules and can dictate who belongs and who doesn’t, but they are going too far.
Scenerio: You just came back from Woodstock '99 and relived your 60’s by smoking some hash, and while you were there you got into a fight with some hippy. nothing comes from the fight except exchanged words so you think everything is a-ok. When you go to work one day your boss comes up to you and says that a annonymous caller had just called in and said you had a drug problem and were about to go postal. Your boss then had you followed around all day, searched your car, your desk and your locker which resulted in nothing. You know the caller is lying, but the boss doesn’t belive you. He forces you to go see a shrink and threatens to fire you unless you take a drug test? This is almost exactly what Gavin is going through right now.

“I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.”-- Calvin and Hobbes
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It’s true that schools, especially private ones, have a wide latitude in terminating the school/student relationship, and quite possibly could get away with expelling Gavin for not taking a drug test. But this is not the same as forcing him to take a drug test. Leaving his school might be traumatic, but it’s not the end of the world. He should try to resolve this, and if he really thinks that taking the test is the best thing to do, then that’s what he should do. But he should realize that leaving the school is an option. In fact, depending on just how good of a student he is, it might even be a good threat. Private school are much more concerned about reputation and image than public schools, and will not take losing good students lightly. Besides which, do you think this school is going to want eigth graders who are considering coming to the school to hear about how the school is mistreating their students? According the story you’ve given, this could happen to any student, and most students will realize this. If Gavin leaves the school, either as an act of retribution or because he’s expelled, both he and the school will suffer. I think that it would help Gavin if he’s aware of this, and if the AP is as well.

Cow God (!MOOO!):

Depending on the type of drug test, Gavin may not have to worry; urinalysis generally is only good for detecting pot use in the last 30 days or so. Hair Samples are much more far-reaching, as the residue is held much longer in the dead skin cells of hair, but exact figures are beyond my memory (I’m sure there are plenty of websites with the usefull info).

While the school certainly had the right to search Gavin and his locker, and possibly any school-bag he might have been carrying, I’m not so sure about his car.

Does the school have an “entry onto premisise constitutes consent to search” policy pulicly posted for all to see? If not, the vehicle search-without-a-warrant may have been illegal.

Any school (public or private) would be right to be concerned, but what constitutes “reasonable precautions” now might be seen in a quite different light if Gavin (or any other student) really was guilty of the anonymus allegations, or going down the same path of Harris and Kliebold.

Keep us posted on how this progresses, and tell your friend to keep away from the drugs, stick to his guns (figuratively speaking) and don’t back down.

<FONT COLOR=“BLUE”>“Then again, the CowGod could send a raging Brahma Bull through the AP’s office.”</FONT>

“Not that I’m for that kinda thing.”

I work in a junior high school and i have to admit im kind of disgusted at what Gavin was put through… First off… i agree that the police were called and the car searched… these days you cant be too careful when it comes to weapons. Otherwise I think the AP was totally out of line. An administrators job is to nurture and guide a student and support them during the rough spots all kids go through. Had the AP acted responsibly and called his parents right away, likely Gavin wouldnt have been subjected to the witch hunt that he was. I would get a lawyer and sue that idiots ass off. Even kids deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, thats what aids in them growing into responsible adults.

We are, each of us angels with only one wing;
and we can only fly by
embracing one another

I’d add that Gavin should take some steps to make sure nothing was put into his permanent record regarding this. Having a notation that ‘Student was suspected of abusing drugs and keeping a firearm’ would be a real bad thing to have follow him around. Being Canadian, I don’t know what disclosure laws are like for private schools in the U.S., but can he demand to have his records opened and viewed? If a college recruiters asks for school records, just what is available to him? I’d find out exactly what kind of damage could occur if that notation is there.

That whole “annomous caller” routine burns my ass. Tell you buddy he was damn lucky that the ****heads that did this didn’t score a rock or two and toss em into his car on the way to the phone.

If I were he, I would make damn sure my car was locked and the windows up from now on.