Schools
A federal appeals court ruled that state employees violated the fourth amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures when they searched a church school's property.
Key point. The fourth amendment prohibition of unreasonable governmental searches and seizures applies to churches and church schools.

* A federal appeals court ruled that state employees violated the fourth amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures when they searched a church school's property and seized an 11-year-old boy who was a suspected victim of child abuse, but the caseworkers could not be personally liable because of "governmental immunity." Several weeks after learning that administrators of a church-operated elementary school used corporal punishment as a form of discipline, caseworkers for a state child welfare agency initiated an investigation for child abuse. Over the objection of the school's principal, and without a warrant or parental notification or consent, the caseworkers removed an 11-year-old boy ("Mark") from his fourth-grade classroom and interviewed him about corporal punishment that he and other students may have received and certain family matters. Thereafter, the caseworkers unsuccessfully attempted to interview Mark's parents and sister, and threatened to remove the children from their parents' custody. The caseworkers also attempted, on a separate occasion, to interview other students at the school, whom Mark had identified as having been spanked, but the principal at the school flatly refused to grant them access to the children without a court order or parental consent. The state eventually ended its investigation due to lack of information, and the school and parents (the "plaintiffs") filed suit against three caseworkers alleging that the manner in which they handled the investigation violated their constitutional rights. The caseworkers asked a court to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that as government employees they were entitled to immunity from liability. A federal district court dismissed the case and the plaintiffs appealed.

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Posted: March 1, 2004
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