Letter: Pat-downs violated students' rights

On May 4 I learned of a meeting at Alcovy High School where graduating students were informed by the staff that there would be a pat-down of each graduating senior prior to graduation to assure that no beach balls, cell phones or car keys were brought into the graduation area. I sent an email that night to all members of the Board of Education and to the superintendent asking if this was the policy of Newton County School System and who made the decisions to do pat-downs.

On May 7 the superintendent responded to me, saying, "See Deputy Superintendent Fuhrey's comments below. Best regards GSM." Below was a forwarded email stating, "Good Afternoon Dr. Mathews, I have checked with all three high school principals regarding the information below. There is not a scheduled 'pat-down' prior to graduation. Each school has provided its seniors with guidance relative to acceptable attire and banned items. In an effort to prevent senior pranks during graduation, each graduate has been instructed not to bring items that would cause a disruption in the ceremony (i.e. beach balls, water guns, etc.) as using them could/would detract from another family's experience. Should Mr. Harrah have additional questions, I am quite certain the principal will be happy to assist him --he should contact the principal directly. Please let me know if you need additional assistance."

There was another email below that stated, "I am not sure where this is coming from as we have not discussed 'patting down' students (nor does our 'letter to the parents of graduates'); I will check with the principals."

It is my opinion this action violated these students' civil rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The pat-downs were done, not looking for guns, knives or weapons of mass destruction; they were done looking for beach balls, cell phones, water guns and car keys. When I first learned about this demeaning action, I considered going to the press, but I was assured that there must have been some misunderstanding and pat-downs were not the policy of NCSS. Either I was misled by the administration or the staff at Alcovy simply chose to ignore the directions of the BOE. If that was the case, they were insubordinate and should be dealt with as such.

While I certainly understand the desire to avoid disruption during graduation ceremonies, the simple instructions of what was off limits should have been sufficient. Yes, I understand that there may be a few who choose to ignore such instructions, but it strikes me that the prudent course of action would have been to deal with those individuals when and if the need arose.

The only breach of decorum was by the staff of NCSS treating the Alcovy Class of 2012 like criminals before their graduation. Shame on the board for letting this happen. They owe an apology to the Class of 2012 and to the parents and grandparents for treating their sons and daughters and the grandchildren of the citizens of Newton County like criminals.

-- Mark Harrah



Covingtonian 3 years, 6 months ago

I am amazed that this is an issue. On the one hand some bloggers feel that the school is full of thugs and degenerates and on the other some are complaining about pat downs.If the student body is so dangerous they should have gone to the extreme of having metal detectors for everyone to pass through and armed guards on the roof tops. Now I know that this is supposed to have happened because of possible pranks but, we are not privy as to whether the school administration had received info immediately prior to the ceremony that one of the alleged thugs had plans to disrupt the Graduation with such a prank, thus a search. I like so many others in this county am about fairness to all and am not defending either the school or the BOE but, I am becoming desensitized to the goings on at this school because of so much complaining. In conclusion, how do you propose to take corrective action against someone who has graduated from your school without seeming vindictive? .


OnToday 3 years, 6 months ago

I think the real issue here is not the pat downs but the fact that there is a clear disconnect between the BOE office and the school. The BOE says one thing, the school says another thing, and then the school does what it wants. It's funny because I have heard from teachers at AHS that they get in big trouble if they don't follow the "chain of command." And yet the school leaders don't follow their same advice. If the BOE says pat downs are not happening then why is the school going out on its own and doing them? And what else are they doing under the radar?


ontomorrow 3 years, 6 months ago

If you people will vote for the candidates in districts 2 and 4 who are not incumbents this will help.  Vote against both incumbents in July and November did you see what a joke Johnson made of our board with the Christian Learning topic?  NCSS is a laughing stock of the state with him as the leader.  We need another educator who has actually taught for years in a classroom who knows what we go through and won't say ADD THREE KIDS TO EVERY ROOM fools rush in.


Truckermother 3 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Harrah are you really surprised.  They let D. Carpenter violate BOE Policy GAG and stay silent on the issue - see below. Hey free speech lovers, look what we found last week on the Secretary of State website. Note the 2 names in the ownership of a biz while one supervised the other in Newton County schools. One was later fired from Newton High. Can you say nepotism? Our research continues and more news on the Florida trips soon out. We have passed this around hoping it will get officials attention in the current conflict of interest mess: http://corp.sos.state.ga.us/corp/soskb/corp.asp?1531560


Teedoffparent 3 years, 6 months ago

1.  Does the school system have a policy on higher leadership positions dating, marrying, and if not why not?  What are there plans to keep this from happening again?   2.  Is it true that the former principal of Newton High and the current dep supt of Operations owned a business together Lead Learners LLC while one oversaw HR for the other?  Ask does this represent a conflict of interest?   3.  Tips were sent to the superintendent about the topics of alcohol in the news at Alcovy.  Has there been a follow up investigation on any of the public concerns and have any tips been sent in that have had follow up and what results if any can you share to help us improve the schools we pay for?   4.  Does the board have plans to institute a nepotism policy?   5.  Will the board work with local Senate and House legislators to create a bill to prevent the type of HR  conflicts of interest in school systems statewide?   6.  How many teachers and staff have left Alcovy High since 2009 and what is the plan for filling the "brain drain"?   7.  Have club sponsors at Alcovy High been interviewed and have results led to any revelations about claims?   8.  When teachers and other employees have advised the board of what they have known to be true per conflicts of interest in hiring why has the board not acted on these concerns?   9.  What plans does the school system have to raise graduation rates and achievement levels at Alcovy High, a school we are all paying for with major math failures in Math 2


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