Pubdate: Tue, 1 Jul 2008
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2008 The Hartford Courant
Author: Daniela Altimari
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


CANTON - - The 30 or so people who attended an informational meeting
Monday on last month's controversial drug sweeps at Canton middle and
high schools fell into two camps: those who support it and those who
believe it went too far.

"I applaud the superintendent for going forward with this search,"
said Sandy Sarmuk, a grandmother who is also a retired teacher. "The
presence of the police in the building should be [a] comfort to every
kid in the school."

Others, including Elisa L. Villa, the mother and lawyer who organized
the meeting, sharply disagreed. In their view, the searches chipped
away at students' civil liberties, created a climate of fear and
violated the school board's policy, which permits such searches only
in response to a specific concern.

Moreover, "everyone knows these things don't work," said Dr. Edward
Kavle, a pediatrician in town. An educational campaign about the
dangers of substance abuse and support for students coping with drugs
and alcohol would prove far more effective, he said.

But others cautioned against vilifying the police. "This is legal,
what they did," said Peter Getz, a retired Hartford police officer who
lives in town. Instead of being traumatized by the presence of
drug-sniffing police dogs, his daughter thought they were "cool," he

Ever since June 5, when local police officers and dogs conducted a
surprise search at the two schools, townspeople have engaged in
passionate discussions in coffee shops and across dining room tables.
On Monday, the conversation, heated at times, came to the Canton
Community Center after Villa invited members of the public to air
their views.

She had hoped that school board Chairman Louis Daniels, Superintendent
Kevin Case and Police Chief Lowell Humphrey would come, as well, but
they did not attend.

One person who did was the mother of the 16-year-old girl who was
arrested on a marijuana charge. The girl remains traumatized and
embarrassed by the episode, said her mother, who declined to provide
her name, citing her daughter's still fragile state of mind.

The mother said she does not condone drug use, but she and many other
parents said they object to the techniques the police and the school
system used. "My daughter paid a huge price. ... She was an example to
all the other kids in the school," she said.

"I personally feel my rights as a parent were completely ignored,"
said Harold Burbank, who said the sweeps are part of a larger
infringement of civil liberties that includes the Patriot Act and
other post-9/11 government actions. "I had to read about this in the
newspaper. ... I think that's outrageous."

The searches were based on a board policy adopted several years ago
after extensive debate, said Larry Minichiello, a former board member
who was chairman of the policy committee. "It wasn't something done on
a whim," he said. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake