October 11, 2007
Posted by Bill Herman
In light of publicity surrounding a series of incidents in the Boulder Valley School District, high school administrators in Colorado have been publicly defending their right to read students’ text messages in search of incriminating evidence of breaches of school rules.
According to the Colorado ACLU letter to the Boulder Valley School District Board of Education, administrators at Monarch High School detained a student on May 24th and accused him of smoking cigarettes. When a search of his backpack and pockets revealed no evidence, Vice Principal Drew Adams seized the student’s cell phone, reading and transcribing several messages.
The ACLU alleges this is a class 6 felony under Colorado law.
Adams misrepresented the seizure as a means of preventing distractions during the disciplinary meeting, the ACLU letter continues. The student’s mother asked for the phone, but Adams kept it over Memorial Day weekend.
When the phone was returned, the student’s mother discovered that somebody—presumably Adams—had attempted to send a text message to one of her son’s friends over the weekend, “falsely representing himself as a student.” The attempt failed because the mother had cancelled the service.
Beginning with the text messages from this first student’s phone, “Monarch High School authorities followed up with a cascade of additional interrogations accompanied by seizures and searches of additional students’ cell phones.”
After interviews “with many of the parents and over a dozen students who were drawn into these successive waves of interrogations and cell phone searches,” the group concluded this is part of a broad pattern of such behavior at Monarch.
Many students and parents report being lied to regarding the purpose of seizing cell phones. Further, “school administrators hindered students’ efforts to involve their parents and obstructed concerned parents’ efforts to obtain accurate and complete information about the school’s investigation of their children.” Two students allege to have been held for extended periods without a chance to contact their parents—one long past the end of the school day.
The ACLU also uncovered two earlier instances of Monarch administrators searching students’ cell phones.
In a press release, the district has claimed its legal right to engage in such activities, insisting that district counsel gave them the green light. The Denver Post reports that administrators in Douglas and Jefferson counties have also searched students’ cell phones.