In what may be the dumbest idea to be discussed at a Saucon Valley School Board meeting in some time, director Edward Inghrim reported Feb. 28, according to Patch, that he had “been performing informal surveys of high school students about drug use in the district. He said students know others who are selling and using drugs at Saucon Valley High School.” He therefore proposed random drug testing for students involved in extracurricular activities. Never shy, board member Lanita Lum leaped on Inghrim’s bandwagon, saying “something needs to be done about this” and suggesting that random testing be applied to all students.
If such proposals were initiated they would clearly be unconstitutional and bankrupt the district in a New York minute. Lawsuits on behalf of illegally searched students would overwhelm the district with legal expenses, not to mention huge judgments and settlements. It would be much as if Hellertown Borough Council authorized the Hellertown police to conduct random warrantless searches on residents’ homes because they suspected the widespread use of pot in the borough.
Since 1969 it has been clearly established, in the Supreme Court decision of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, that students don’t lose their civil rights merely by being in school. The exact quote from the majority’s opinion is: “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and student. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.”
Lest anyone think that these constitutional rights are limited to freedom of speech, the same opinion quotes from an earlier judicial opinion: "The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures--Boards of Education not excepted. These have, of course, important, delicate, and highly discretionary functions, but none that they may not perform within the limits of the Bill of Rights. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedom of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes."
Note the point the Court makes about not strangling the free mind at its source, a notion entirely disregarded by directors Inghrim and Lum. If the school board is responsible for anything, it is responsible for teaching our students the meaning of the Constitution and not violating their constitutional rights.
In Inghrim’s case, this is much like the pot calling the kettle black. Inghrim was sworn in as a member of the Saucon Valley School Board in December 2005, less than two weeks before he was arrested in Lower Saucon Township for drunk driving, leaving the scene of an accident and driving at an unsafe speed. His blood alcohol content was reported to have been .13 percent at the time of his arrest. The legal limit is .08 percent. Mr. Inghrim’s remark at the school board meeting after his arrest, which was to the effect that 'we all do that,' was both offensive and wrong.
Inghrim never disputed the charge. Instead, he delayed his trial before the magistrate until he could work out a plea deal, apparently on the ground that he was a first offender. The punishment he agreed to was that he would deliver a number of lectures to Saucon Valley students warning them of the dangers of driving under the influence. Needless to say, his lecture went over like a lead balloon.
It is hard to believe that Inghrim has the moral chutzpah to suggest the random drug testing of students. He was probably better positioned to suggest Breathalyzer tests instead, as at least he is familiar with that problem. Moreover, he attempts to solve a “problem” that doesn’t exist. Nobody seriously cares about athletes using pot or, for that matter, drinking booze. The whole effort for random testing for professional athletes has to do with performance-enhancing drugs. Mr. Inghrim is simply confused about what problem needs to be solved, and if so, how to solve it.
Lanita Lum’s concordance is equally asinine. Ms. Lum, who was once the proprietor of a local departed Hellertown newspaper, has never lost the habit of speaking first and thinking afterward. She is someone who ought to know about constitutional rights but obviously doesn’t. When I wrote a column for her newspaper, the then-Borough Manager tried to suppress her paper on the spurious ground that an ordinance prohibited the “printing” of a paper on Main Street within 50 yards of The Valley Voice which, mysteriously, was not threatened. Neither Lum’s paper nor The Valley Voice was printed on Main Street. Instead of fighting for her First Amendment rights, which would have given her and her small paper national publicity and a certain win, Lum folded up shop and moved the paper to her land in Lower Saucon and Bucks County.
Is it too much to ask that the school board meticulously stays within constitutional bounds and considers the effect of its pronouncements on the minds of our students?
Editor's Note: Arthur Joel Katz is a former member of the Saucon Valley School Board. He was no longer a board member at the time of the events referenced in this column.