On May 4 I learned of a meeting at Alcovy High School where graduating students were informed by the staff that there would be a pat-down of each graduating senior prior to graduation to assure that no beach balls, cell phones or car keys were brought into the graduation area. I sent an email that night to all members of the Board of Education and to the superintendent asking if this was the policy of Newton County School System and who made the decisions to do pat-downs.
On May 7 the superintendent responded to me, saying, "See Deputy Superintendent Fuhrey's comments below. Best regards GSM." Below was a forwarded email stating, "Good Afternoon Dr. Mathews, I have checked with all three high school principals regarding the information below. There is not a scheduled 'pat-down' prior to graduation. Each school has provided its seniors with guidance relative to acceptable attire and banned items. In an effort to prevent senior pranks during graduation, each graduate has been instructed not to bring items that would cause a disruption in the ceremony (i.e. beach balls, water guns, etc.) as using them could/would detract from another family's experience. Should Mr. Harrah have additional questions, I am quite certain the principal will be happy to assist him --he should contact the principal directly. Please let me know if you need additional assistance."
There was another email below that stated, "I am not sure where this is coming from as we have not discussed 'patting down' students (nor does our 'letter to the parents of graduates'); I will check with the principals."
It is my opinion this action violated these students' civil rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The pat-downs were done, not looking for guns, knives or weapons of mass destruction; they were done looking for beach balls, cell phones, water guns and car keys. When I first learned about this demeaning action, I considered going to the press, but I was assured that there must have been some misunderstanding and pat-downs were not the policy of NCSS. Either I was misled by the administration or the staff at Alcovy simply chose to ignore the directions of the BOE. If that was the case, they were insubordinate and should be dealt with as such.
While I certainly understand the desire to avoid disruption during graduation ceremonies, the simple instructions of what was off limits should have been sufficient. Yes, I understand that there may be a few who choose to ignore such instructions, but it strikes me that the prudent course of action would have been to deal with those individuals when and if the need arose.
The only breach of decorum was by the staff of NCSS treating the Alcovy Class of 2012 like criminals before their graduation. Shame on the board for letting this happen. They owe an apology to the Class of 2012 and to the parents and grandparents for treating their sons and daughters and the grandchildren of the citizens of Newton County like criminals.
-- Mark Harrah