HAROLD BURBANK et al. v. CANTON BOARD OF EDUCATION, SC 18591
Judicial District of Hartford
Constitutional Law; Search and Seizure; Public Schools; Whether the Plaintiffs Failed to Brief Adequately and Independently Their State Constitutional Claim; Whether School Board's Policy of Conducting Warrantless, Suspicionless Sweeps of School Property Using Drug-Detecting Dogs Violates the State Constitution. The plaintiffs, who are two public school students and their respective parents, brought this action to enjoin the defendant school board's policy of conducting warrantless, suspicionless sweeps of lockers and cars on school property using drug-detecting dogs. In the alternative, the plaintiffs sought a court order requiring school officials to provide parents no less than forty-eight hours notice prior to conducting such searches. The plaintiffs maintained that the policy was unconstitutional under article first, §§ 8 and 9 of the Connecticut constitution. They further asserted that the state constitution provides greater protection to students and their parents against warrantless, suspicionless searches by school officials and police than the federal constitution. Noting that the plaintiffs failed to analyze their state constitutional claim based on the six factors set forth in State v. Geisler, 222 Conn. 672 (1992), the trial court deemed their state constitutional claim abandoned and analyzed the legality of the board's policy only under the federal constitution. First, the court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the sweeps violated the rights of public school students to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Relying on federal court cases, it ruled that, because a student does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the smells emanating from his or her locker or car, the warrantless, suspicionless sweeps of lockers and cars on school property using drug-detecting dogs did not constitute a search for purposes of the fourth amendment. Next, it found no merit to the parents' claim that the constitutional right to family integrity, as recognized in Roth v. Weston, 259 Conn. 202 (2002), is violated by the board's attempt to control the drug problem in its schools. The court concluded that, unlike visitation or custody rights, the board's policy does not strike at the heart of the parent-child relationship or implicate the fundamental interest in family integrity within the meaning of Roth. It also found that the rights of parents to control the upbringing of their children are not offended when a public school system engages in otherwise constitutional, legitimate attempts to provide a safe and efficacious learning environment for all students. Accordingly, the trial court denied the plaintiffs' application for a permanent injunction. On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the trial court improperly determined that they failed to brief and analyze separately their state constitutional claim. If they prevail on that claim, the plaintiffs then argue that the policy of conducting warrantless, suspicionless sweeps of school grounds violates the state constitution.