Drug war harassment at school
By Swan Eagle, Upper Columbia Human Rights Coalition
In the spring of 2001 the Victim Response Committee of the Upper
Columbia Human Rights Coalition was contacted by Kim Mangis,
a resident of Stevens County. She was concerned about the well
being of her daughter, an honor student at a small, rural high
Mangis' daughter, Kaleigh was charged with being a Minor in Possession
after a search of her backpack at school. A pipe was found, and
students were pitted, one against another. Kaleigh opted for
'diversion' and was sentenced to a $10 fine, 32 hours of community
service, and had to write an essay on "Making Better Choices."
She will not be able to get her driver's license until she is
17, and had to resign from her position on the Associated Student
Body-not because she'd smoked marijuana, but because she got
caught with a pipe. If she stays out of trouble until she is
18, her record will be expunged; one mistake and she will receive
the maximum punishment for her offense.
Kim Mangis explained that after diversion was completed, her
daughter was targeted by teachers and the school principal and
subjected to three searches. The third search went too far, and
Mangis called our local organization.
Kim says that her daughter had passed a stick of gum to another
student prompting the teacher to report her to the principal.
According to the family, the principal asked Kaleigh to empty
her pockets and surrender her coat for a search. Kaleigh reminded
school officials that to conduct a personal search, her mother
or a police officer had to be present; she was told by the principal
that it wasn't illegal for school officials to conduct a search
and would not allow her to call her mother. When she attempted
to leave the office to call her mother, a school secretary held
her daughter by the shoulders while the principal dialed 911.
Kim says that her daughter, now frightened, quickly complied
with the search and hadn't struggled with the secretary because
she knew the woman was pregnant. The principal wasn't satisfied
when a search of pockets and coat yielded nothing, and asked
the young woman to remove her shoes and socks. She had nothing
illegal in her possession.
After a basketball game, Kaleigh complained that one teacher
took a cup of coffee from her, tasted it, telling her he was
checking for alcohol. The same teacher followed her and a friend
down an alley. This mother is concerned because the harassment
has not only affected her daughter but many of the other students
as well. They are afraid they will become targets of harassment,
Perhaps the worst result was the targeting of another student
as a "snitch" after writing a paper admitting her guilt.
This public admission freed her from formal diversion. She told
the truth, but had no idea the repercussions she would face with
her peers. Later she was beaten-up by other angry kids, and shunned
entirely. The snitch was dubbed a narc. Kaleigh tried to intervene
and correct the situation, but according to school policy was
forbidden any contact with the student.
Later, based on an anonymous phone call, a senior and two of
her friends were searched. Nothing was found. Word of a hate
list spread through the school. It was reported that the principal,
several teachers and the "snitch" were on the list.
The small 9th grade class was publicly humiliated and labeled
as troublesome. Students' grades plummeted; life long friendships
disintegrated. Hostility prevailed as trust and mutual respect
was destroyed by the zero tolerance of drug war policy that did
not make these high school students "safe."
Once we heard the story, it was decided that I would act as witness
while Kaleigh passed out copies of the ACLU pamphlet on students'
rights. Students have the right to remain silent when questioned
by a school official, and the right to ask to see parents or
a lawyer. School officials may search students without a warrant
when they have "reasonable grounds for suspecting that the
search will turn up evidence that the student has violated either
the law, or rules of the school."
Kaleigh told me that she learned a life lesson that made her
more aware of her rights and more willing to assert them. Kim
has learned things too. She believes it is crucial for parents
to pay attention to what is happening to their children at home
and in school and to try to check in at least twice a week. Parents
cannot relax and must ask questions. Not wanting to upset the
family any further, Kaleigh had not even mentioned the first
two warrantless searches.
Swan Eagle Harijan has lived in Stevens County
for most of the past 26 years. She is the mother of three talented
children. Along with cross cultural bridge building, she is an
artist, and peace activist.