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ACLU questions how school search was carried out; No drugs found at Narragansett.

Byline: George Barnes

TEMPLETON - The Worcester Chapter of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has contacted the Narragansett Regional School District out of concern over a drug search held in the high school last week.

Ronal C. Madnick, director of the Worcester chapter, said his main reason for contacting school officials in Templeton is to learn if students were aware of what was going on during the search.

The school was placed on what is called Code Yellow Down, while police searched lockers using a dog trained to detect contraband. Code Yellow means all students were restricted to their classrooms until the search was completed. During the search, no contraband was found.

Superintendent of School Stephen R. Hemman said students were not informed what was going on during or before the search.

He said the district's and the Police Department's concern was that if there had been any illegal drugs in the school, it would have been removed before police were able to check the lockers.

He said the search was done in part to ensure that students are protected from harm.

"We want to make sure the place is safe," he said.

The superintendent said the search did not violate the civil rights of anyone.

The lockers are considered school property and can be searched.

Mr. Madnick said if the students were not informed of the reason for the search it could have caused them and teachers who were not aware of the reason for the lockdown serious concern.

Among the reasons for lockdowns at schools are bomb threats or threats against students.

"Not knowing can be very traumatic not just for students, but for teachers, too. This trauma could be exacerbated when we are constantly hearing stories on the news of terrorist attacks and school shootings," he said in a letter to the School Department and the Templeton Police Department.

Mr. Hemman said Code Yellow is not a lockdown. If there had been a serious threat, the school would have gone into a Code Blue, in which doors would be locked and students told to keep out of sight for safety's sake. He said students are aware of the difference.

Police using dogs from the Athol Police and the Worcester County Sheriff's Departments did a 25-minute sweep raid on the morning of Nov. 9. Only a few administrators were informed in the school as police went from locker to locker looking for drugs and other illegal items.

Mr. Hemman said that after the raid, the school notified students and parents what the Code Yellow was for.

Similar searches have been done each year for the past eight years by the Police Department since a resource officer was assigned to the schools.

Mr. Hemman said that although the Civil Liberties Union is questioning the School Department's procedure, he was unhappy with Mr. Madnick's procedure in contacting the media before talking to him.

The local Civil Liberties Union Chapter regularly contacts officials when it is concerned about possible rights violations.

Recently it contacted Gardner officials suggesting they get a ruling from the city's solicitor about restrictions on political signs.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 16, 2007
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