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Parent questions search policy

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State regulations guide local procedures

By Carol A. Clark

 A parent expressed concern Thursday that her child, who attends Los Alamos High School, has been called into the principal’s office and “frisked” four times this year. After the third incident, she requested the school notify her in advance of any further frisking.

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“I told the principal that I would feel more comfortable to be present and that (my child) certainly would feel more comfortable,” the parent said. “My (child) called me this morning crying after another frisking — no one from the school had called me – I’m just really upset.”

The parent said she believes that an element of bullying by other students is behind her child being frisked repeatedly. A group of students enjoy seeing her child called out of class to the principal’s office for a pat down so they report her as possessing drugs, the parent said.

“I really can’t comment on the situation,” Principal Sandy Warnock said. “I can say that we didn’t do anything illegal, we didn’t deviate from our policy and it’s always the safety of our students that comes first.”

New Mexico schools are required by state law to adhere to certain regulations governing procedures that must be taken when students are suspected of possessing drugs or weapons. The Los Alamos Public Schools’ policies coincide with state regulation. Notice of the district’s search policy is distributed annually to students and parents:

Search and Seizure — School property assigned to a student and a student’s person or property, while under the authority of the public schools, are subject to search, and items found are subject to seizure.

Who may Search — certified school personnel, school security personnel and school bus drivers are “authorized persons” to conduct searches... An authorized person who is conducting a search may request the assistance of some other person(s), who upon consent become(s) an authorized person for the purpose of that search only.

There are no gender restrictions regarding the conduct of pat downs.

“Our administrators do follow policy and procedure during those investigative incidents and if they do find weapons or drugs then the police are involved. As part of our procedure, a witness is always present,” said Superintendent Gene Schmidt.

Los Alamos Police Capt. Randy Foster explained that a police officer is within his or her right to pat down a student suspected of hiding a weapon on his or her person.

“The schools have their guidelines for students, but we don’t follow those guidelines — we have to follow state and local laws regarding search and seizure, which is typically more restrictive than school policy,” Foster said.

Schmidt provided the Los Alamos Monitor with an annual statistics report that the district is required to submit to the state, which shows the number of students involved in assaults or possession of weapons or drugs.

During 2009-2010, LAPS reported 18 incidents at the high school including eight drug violations, one of which also involved possession of stolen property. A breaking and entering and four incidents of violence were also reported at the high school. The violence reports involved one case of a student making threats against a staff member, one simple assault/battery, one fight and one student using foul language, expressing how mad he felt and saying that he was going to kill another individual. There also were two weapons violations reported at the high school.

Many items are “weapons” in the eyes of the state. For example, a knife measuring more than 2.5 inches is considered as such, Schmidt said.

Five “weapons” were seized among the elementary schools, which consisted of children possessing small pocket knives, according to the report. There also was an assault and battery involving a student who attempted to choke another student at Barranca Mesa Elementary School.

Seventeen incidents occurred at Los Alamos Middle School. Nine assault and batteries were reported to the state, eight of which involved fighting. The ninth assault and battery involved the use of a pellet gun.

LAMS also reported one public display of affection and four drug violations, one bullying incident and two weapons violations. The weapons violations consisted of a student cutting with a knife and another student in possession of a BB pistol, an air soft pistol and an extra air cylinder.

“One of the things I’m proud about my administrative team is their responsiveness to students and if there are concerns about weapons or drugs on campus, how quickly they respond to that concern,” Schmidt said.

Both the high school and middle school are staffed with School Resource Officers; Los Alamos police officers who work in partnership with the schools to maintain safety and security for the students, teachers and staff.