Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Vicious Momma v. Knox County Schools, part 2

This is the follow-up to "Knox County School Violates Fourth Amendment."

Knox County Schools apparently decided that they have the authority to unreasonably seize personal property and to impound it 15 miles away from the school where it was seized. My son's cell phone fell out of his pocket at school the other day and a teacher saw him pick it up, so she seized it and sent it to the school office. Okay, fine. I understand that cell phones are not allowed to be used in class. But he wasn't using it. He was only picking it up and looking at it to make sure it wasn't damaged from falling. Anyway, I don't have a problem with them keeping it in the school office until I can pick it up, but I do have a problem with them sending it off the school grounds to some kind of "security" office, which is essentially the county's school police station.

I am probably overreacting to this situation that is ultimately pretty trivial, except that I just can't see it as trivial when our Constitutional rights are violated, even in regards to something like a cell phone. I understand that they have rules, and that they are necessary. But all of this unreasonable seizing personal "effects" and then imposing excessive and unusual punishments is just plain WRONG.

I can't see how anyone could really believe that requiring a parent to drive a 30 mile round trip to pick up a simple cell phone that was seized merely for its own existence is not excessive punishment. And "cruel and unusual" too since it was very rainy, windy and bad holiday traffic going to pick it up in the middle of one of Knoxville's worst public housing slums (where the SS security office is located). While this 30 mile round trip to pick up our illegally seized phone was not a hardship for us in the purely physical sense, there are many people for whom it would be excessively inconvenient and a hardship to do so. Some people don't have easy transportation for such things and some can't take time away from work.

It is obviously a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of "excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments" to make a parent go to this much trouble to reclaim a cell phone that was already practically stolen by the school. Imagine if you replace "cell phone" with a $100 bill. Clearly it is an illegal theft for the school personnel to seize that money, send it away, and require a parent to go out of their way to retrieve it. Any other personal property is no different from the money and no one would stand for their money to be extorted in this way. Even people who have their cars towed or otherwise taken away for some "offense" have to sign for it. The school basically stole our phone. The school personnel are guilty of extortion and coercion.

And while those issues are big enough for a serious complaint, there is even more to the story. When I called the security office to make sure the phone was there before driving all that way to get it, I also asked for directions since I'm not so familiar with that part of town. I simply asked "where exactly is the office located?" After some vague and useless information like "in northwest Knoxville" and "off Western Avenue" from the woman on the phone, who I am assuming was the secretary, Debra Dexter, I asked if she could give me directions. If her reply had not been so incompetent and lazy I might not have been quite as angry about having to go there. This woman is a "public servant" and is paid with my tax dollars so I don't think it is unreasonable to expect her to be somewhat helpful. But no, this is what she said, "Oh, it's just too hard to describe how to get here so look it up on one of those map things on your computer." Wow. My tax dollars at "work."

There are some other small, annoying, hypocritical details about her and the other "security" staff. At the front door of the office which had a big "No Smoking" sign, there was a group of men, some of them cops, standing there smoking! Right in front of the entrance with the no smoking sign. Typical! In the office I asked why they felt it was necessary to send phones to this location, but of course, they would not give me a good answer and only continued to coerce me to sign the form stating that I was picking up our phone. I couldn't contain my anger then and did tell them that the policies are stupid and violate our 4th and 8th Amendment rights and that this isn't Nazi Germany. And now they know our names and we'll be blacklisted forever.

And you know, how do we know that they didn't examine our phone, look at the personal information contained in it, copy the SIM card information, or any other invasion of our privacy? If they think nothing of illegally seizing it then what's to stop them from further violating our rights by copying private information and so on? All of this was done without "probable cause" and without any kind of warrants, and so why should I expect that they are respecting ANY of our rights if they are so unscrupulously violating the 4th and 8th Amendments?

The Superintendent and many others will be receiving letters of complaint from me. If they do not change their policy regarding seizure of personal property then perhaps some further action will be required. I really don't want to start some big thing because I am a private person and I don't want to be dissected like other citizens who have questioned authority (Joe the plumber, for instance). But I refuse to be intimidated, extorted, coerced, bullied, violated, and abused by the people who are paid with my tax dollars to serve me and everyone else. They do not have the authority to violate my rights, my kids' rights, or anyone else's rights. Period.

1 comment:

dhammett said...

Three words, RaeAnn: "vouchers" and "private school." It's too bad this is what the public schools are getting to, but when you get right down to it, are you comfortable trusting the education of your children to the likes of the NEA? Granted, there are some terrific teachers in the public system, but they are a small minority. Furthermore, the administrators are the ones that have risen to the top of the sludge heap; the ones who have bought the trash they're trying to foist upon our children. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid you're banging your head against a wall. Letters to the bureaucrats? Meh. Letters to the editor? Possibly a lot more effective. In any event, I'm on your side. Thanks for keeping us up to date.