Teacher Defends Constitutional Rights

By Hentoff, Nat | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

Teacher Defends Constitutional Rights


Hentoff, Nat, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


As every survey shows, most American high school students are ignorant of their liberties and rights under the Constitution. I've found only a few teachers across the country who stir students to understand and value our most fundamental definition of who we are.

One of the most passionately knowledgeable of those teachers is Sherry Hearn. Voted Teacher of the Year at Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, Ga., she has taught social studies and constitutional law there for 27 years.

As at many schools in the nation, Windsor Forest students are occasionally subject without warning to dragnet raids by the police, who herd the students into the hallways and use dogs to sniff the students, their purses and their book bags. Metal detectors are used to scan students' bodies. The students are locked into the building for two to three hours while the police perform the search.

Contrary to the specific words of the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights, the searches are conducted without any particular information that any student has used or is using drugs. All of them are presumed guilty of possessing drugs or weapons unless a police dog or metal detector exonerates them.

Sherry Hearn taught her students for years about how the Fourth Amendment came into being because of the privacy abuses suffered by American colonists due to the sweeping searches and seizures performed by British troops. During one of these police sweeps on her school, a student asked her why she was so angry at the raid. "Because I believe in the Constitution," she said.

A policeman overheard her, reported her to the principal and said she should be watched during the next lockdown. At the next dragnet search, the police also searched the teachers' cars in the parking lot in violation of a school policy that teachers' cars could not be searched without the consent of their owners. Miss Hearn was not asked for her consent. A police dog found that morning half of a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette in an ashtray in her car. It was still warm. Sherry Hearn had been in the school the entire morning. That night, a caller on the county's Silent Witness line said that the cigarette had been planted in the car. He did not give his identity. The cigarette was never produced as evidence because, a police officer said, it had "crumbled" during the search and no residue was kept.

According to school policy, Miss Hearn was told she had to take a drug test within two hours of being informed that an illegal substance had been found in her car. …

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