Parent upset over undercover drug sweep
By 12/18/2003 00:00:00
Informant used; lawsuit, picket planned Friday
The Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - A drug 'sweep' by an undercover informant and assistant principal at Waxahachie Junior High School Wednesday, Dec. 11 has Linda Gallegos fuming.
Waxahachie Independent School District officials said 12 students in all were searched for drugs, including Gallegos' daughter, at the school, which is located north of Highway 287 on Brown Street.
'Administrators and WISD security checked 12 students according to state law and in accordance with confidentiality guidelines,' said Candace Ahlfinger, the district's public relations director.
'No drugs were found and the students were returned to class.
'Waxahachie ISD investigates all rumors and threats for the safety of students and staff.'
Gallegos said her daughter, who just turned 14, had said an assistant principal reached up her shirt to look for the drugs.
Originally, her daughter was not involved with the list the unnamed informant provided to school officials.
So far, WISD has refused to reveal the list of student names the informant provided to school officials.
A boy who was, however, on the informant's list, loaned Gallegos' daughter his jacket. This caused the girl to be 'directly involved.'
'She learned her lesson about not wearing other people's clothes,' Gallegos said.
Gallegos has since pulled her daughter from the school district, and plans to file a civil rights lawsuit.
'I told them that this wasn't right, that this was the last straw' said Gallegos, who noted she was not notified on a previous incident when her daughter suffered a serious concussion at the school. 'These kids are 13, 14, and have no voice, can't vote…some civil liberties are being broken here and they didn't contact anybody.'
According to other students Gallegos' daughter talked to, they, too, had been groped and searched by the assistant principal. The school officials also threatened the students with In-School-Suspension, Gallegos said, if they did not comply with the search.
Ahlfinger recommended Gallegos meet with the principal before going before the school board with the complaints.
The district did not notify parents, Gallegos said, because students feared they would be in trouble for being under suspicion of the drugs.
WISD officials have remained silent on naming the informant or the assistant principal, but did admit last week's drug search was not the first; a total of 'two or three' searches have been conducted this year so far, officials said.
Other agencies respond
When contacted, Waxahachie Police Chief Bobby Whitmire said he did not know of the raid.
'I don't have a clue, but I can assure you if it was the WPD, parents would have called me the next morning,' he said. 'The [drug] task force can do it, if they have a warrant, but that's very abnormal. The [sheriff's office] can do it, but they don't have to tell us.'
Gallegos attended a meeting the next day with administrators, who refused to allow supporters and this reporter to attend.
Lt. Danny Williams with the Ellis County Sheriff's Office said his department did not know of the situation either.
Williams went on to say there's a difference between an informant and an undercover agent. Though he doubts the school district would have used a student, informants are usually civilians, whereas agents are on a department's payroll.
The fact an assistant principal searched the students has also brought up constitutional issues.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals 'in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures…'
A Supreme Court case, New Jersey v. TLO, states students are born with rights, regardless of age, but if a 'reasonable cause' is present, school administrators can conduct the searches.
Because drugs were not found, however, the issue of reasonable cause bolsters Gallegos' case. The federal case also goes on to state licensed peace officers must have 'probable cause' to obtain a warrant and then conduct a search.
Additionally, the fact no school district handbook (three versions) contains procedures for student searches will also be brought up in the suit, Gallegos said.
After being tipped about the incident and following meeting, this reporter visited Waxahachie Jr. High, only to be kicked off campus; after meeting with Ahlfinger, district security vehicles showed up on scene, a normal procedure, they said.
Before leaving the campus and meeting, Gallegos had slipped in this reporter's tape recorder in a coat pocket, thereby confirming what administrators said.
Originally, a teacher referred to the drug bust as a 'sweep', but after a few minutes privately with administrators, she began using the word 'search.'
Now, the incident is fueling efforts among some parents throughout the school district to form a citizen's group and combat the 'unconstitutional actions' of the administrators.
'I told the [school officials] there's a lot of parents who feel the same way, about pulling [their kids] out of school, and they looked at me shocked. What happened was not right. You can't [violate] the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. These are kids.
'This ain't over yet.'