Two former high school lacrosse players have filed suit in federal court alleging that their Maryland high school violated their constitutional rights to due process and protections against unreasonable searches. According to the Washington Post, they allege that Talbot County school officials conducted an unconstitutional search of their lacrosse equipment bags in 2012 that turned up a small knife and a lighter. Both students were suspended from school for these infractions.
The search took place when school officials boarded a team bus to investigate a tip concerning the possession of alcohol. During the search, student Graham Dennis volunteered that he had a small knife that he used to fix his lacrosse sticks. The student was led away in handcuffs and suspended from school for ten days. Another student, Casey Edsall, was suspended for having a lighter in his gear bag, which he stated that he used to seal the frayed ends of strings on his lacrosse stick.
The students appealed their suspensions to the Maryland State Board of Education (MBE) which, in a rare reversal of a local school district disciplinary action, overturned the suspensions and ordered the school districts to expunge the disciplinary actions from the students’ records. In its ruling, the MBE conceded that knives and lighters don’t belong in school, but concluded that “this case is about context and about the appropriate exercise of discretion.” In particular, the MBE noted that the coaching staff had tacitly approved the possession and use of these items and that students had openly used them in the past.
The students are seeking monetary damages from the Talbot County school board and four school officials. Talbot County officials have not argued that the students intended to harm other students, but that these items were potentially dangerous and that bringing a knife to school is “one of the most serious offenses that a student can commit.”
This challenge to the school’s disciplinary action, filed at the same time as the U.S. Department of Education’s new guidance on school suspensions, points to an increased willingness on the part of parents and others to challenge school district disciplinary decisions.