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Band's luggage searched before Florida trip

| Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Deer Lakes School District officials found exactly what they expected Monday when they searched students' luggage before a trip to Florida: nothing.

As police stood by, school and band staff looked through the bags of more than 60 members of the district's competitive marching band before they boarded a bus bound for Walt Disney World for a weeklong stay and performance. Staff checked for such things as drugs, tobacco, alcohol, pornography and weapons.

High school Principal Bill McClarnon said such searches are standard practice for overnight field trips. Officials weren't surprised at the results of this one, he said.

"But we do it nonetheless as a precaution," McClarnon said.

District Superintendent Mark King said the procedure is not new and the district's solicitor approved it.

"We'd be pretty remiss if we let a few kids sneak a half-gallon of vodka on the bus," McClarnon said.

West Deer police Chief Jon Lape said officers were on hand to assist, but did not actively participate in the searches.

"We've done this in the past, and there's been no problem," the chief said.

But Andy Burch, father of color guard member Amy Burch, said he was unaware of past searches and fears the district is setting a bad example.

"If there's probable cause, then I'll be the first one standing there opening her bags," Burch said yesterday morning. "But this is unacceptable."

Burch said neither his daughter, a junior who previously was a cheerleader, nor his son, a former football player who since has graduated, ever had to submit to searches.

"I believe you've got to have some trust and respect for these kids," Burch said. "These kids worked their butts off to go on this trip."

McClarnon said he and band officials had a meeting with parents last week and he discussed the searches and other behavioral guidelines for students. He said no one at the meeting questioned the procedure.

Burch said he didn't attend the meeting and learned about the search from his daughter.

McClarnon said students found with prohibited items likely would be banned from going on the trip.

If caught with forbidden items while in Florida, students will be flown home with a chaperone at the parents' expense, McClarnon said.

"We're not talking about a group of Franciscan monks here," the principal said. "We're talking about a group of American high school students. Most parents remember what that means."

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