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ACLU criticizes Perham’s prom breathalyzer plan

Editor's note: This is the original version of a story that has since been updated. Read the most current version here:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is criticizing Perham High School’s decision to require all students attending prom to take a breathalyzer test before admittance.

In a letter sent to school officials today, ACLU-MN executive director Charles Samuelson urged the school to reject the breath search plan for Saturday’s upcoming prom, because it is “likely unconstitutional, and ineffective.” 

At the same time, the ACLU-MN sent a letter to the Perham Police Department criticizing their involvement in a program that it says has little legal grounds.

In a press release, the ACLU-MN stated that the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution have protections that protect students from suspicionless searches. In addition, the Minnesota School Boards Association Model Policy 502, “only allows for searches of a student’s person when there exists reasonable suspicion that the search will uncover a violation of the law or school rules.” 

Court decisions generally forbid the practice of suspicionless searches of students, with narrow exceptions for student athletes, the release states.

Rather than mandate breath tests, the ACLU-MN recommends that Perham High School provide access to an on-site school counselor with expertise in substance abuse, and create “a school environment that supports a relationship of trust between students and mentors, coaches, and teachers.”

“By requiring breathalyzer tests, the district would be teaching students the wrong civics lesson,” stated Samuelson in the letter to the school. “You imply that students are guilty until proven innocent instead of innocent until proven guilty.”

Messages with the Perham Police Chief and school superintendent were not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.