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In Shift, Detroit A.C.L.U. Offers School-Security Plan

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Development of the security plan, which was released this month, followed years of community discussion spurred by the aclu's 1985 lawsuit challenging the district's use of metal detectors in random "sweep searches" for weapons.

In 1987, a federal court ordered a temporary halt to the practice, asking school officials in the city then known as the nation's "murder capital" to reexamine the weapons-de4tection policy.

The following year, Detroit's aclu chapter created a 42-member task force of community officials to study school security.

That panel's recommendations do not mark a shift in aclu positions, officials said, but the process by which the plan was developed is part of a new strategy seeking to avoid potential suits through collaboration.

Aclu officials said last week that affiliates are making a concerted effort to become more "proactive" in the defense of civil rights.

According to Colleen O'Connor, a national-office spokesman, the changing emphasis is not a "top-down" policy directive. The national group, she explained, is encouraging its affiliates to avoid litigation by offering solutions to problems before disputes develop.

"It's always better," she said, "to settle out of court."

In the Detroit plan, the aclu supports school searches that involve what the U.S. Supreme Court has defined as "reasonable suspicion."

The plan also calls for: patrols of schools by police, parents, and other volunteers; better enforcement of truancy laws; and the establishment and use of alternative schools for students caught with weapons.

In what is perhaps its most controversial suggestion, the plan also endorses a "secret witness" hotline allowing students to give anonymous tips about other students.

Many of the task-force members who helped develop the plan are not aclu members, according to Leonard L. Grossman, president of the metropolitan Detroit chapter.

The chapter's board of directors formed the group in 1988, he said, ''after discovering that we just haven't been as effective as we should be."

"Now we're trying to offer more comprehensive solutions to a community-wide problem," Mr. Grossman said, "rather than deal with each issue bit by bit, as lawsuits do."

Ms. O'Connor termed the development part of an overall strategy to "educate the general public about the Bill of Rights."--lj

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