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Intro to Public Forum and Probable Cause Topic Preparation

September 17, 2016
Published in Newsletter

[Millennial Speech & Debate Institutes]

The purpose of this post is to provide an organized introduction to Public Forum debate for beginning debaters and an organized introduction to the September-October topic for students who did not have the opportunity to attend summer workshops.

Basics of Public Forum Debate for Beginners

Guide to Public Forum Debate

Basics of the September-October Topic

Resolved: In United States public K-12 schools, the probable cause standard ought to apply to searches of students.


Basic topic lecture. I went through this the first day of my debate class and the first day of camps I ran, but this version is more comprehensive (I had more time when I recorded it) and it is good for review for all students.

I find that even students who attended camps are still lacking a basic understanding the difference between searches of people (students) and administrative searches.

Basic essay.  This is a basic essay that explains some of the key ideas and arguments related to the topic.

Basic Constructive Speeches and Rebuttal Blocks

There are two ways you can access these.

First, if you are a subscriber, you can directly download the files.

Second, if you are Lakeland student, you can access them on our own team’s Drop Box account.  Lakeland students can access the Drop Box in two ways –

(a) At the private link I sent out

(b) By going to getdropbox.com, registering an account (it’s free), and then sending a request to [email protected] to synch the DropBox folder with the contents to your computer. I highly suggest this, as it is the simplest way to have the most recent versions of the file, which are always edited on your computer.

Drop Box automatically snychs the most recent version of the files to your computer if you have Drop Box installed.

Lakeland students should really do this because we have many of our own files that are not available here.

If you are reading this and you don’t debate at Lakeland, I suggest you ask your own coach if your team has a Drop Box account and how to access it.

(c) Lakeland students can join this website —  http://millennialsd.com/register/ — with a free account and I will activate it for you for free.

Rebuttal blocks that you can use to answer common arguments people make in their constructive speeches.

Icon of Probable Cause -- Core Novice Blocks Probable Cause -- Core Novice Blocks -- Subscribers Only (155.4 KiB)

Basic speeches — Pro and Con

Icon of Novice -- Basic Con Speech Novice -- Basic Con Speech -- Subscribers Only (40.9 KiB)

Icon of Novice -- Basic Pro Speech Novice -- Basic Pro Speech -- Subscribers Only (45.1 KiB)

These are two basic speeches that contain some core arguments.  Two notes —

(a) These are not the only arguments people make in their constructive speeches.  They are samples.

(b) They are too long. You need to edit/shorten them. You can also make them more “PF style,” with less direct quotation.

Supreme Court Decisions

The topic centers around a few Supreme Court decisions.  You should read (at lest read through) these decisions so that you have a grasp of the basic arguments

New Jersey v. TLO.  This Court decisions said warrants are never required for searches of students in schools (under reasonable suspicion or probable cause) AND that only reasonable suspicion, not probable cause, is required for a school-based search.

Vernonia v. Acton and v. Pottawotamie v. Earls. These Court cases concluded that random (non suspicion-based searches of students are permitted for athletes (Vernonia) and students in extra curricular activities (Earls) who agree to it as a condition of participation in these sports and activities.

You can find the basic Con arguments in the majority opinion and the Pro arguments in the dissents.

More details

What is linked above covers the basics of the arguments on the topic.  There are, of course, many more details and some specific arguments where greater understanding is better.  As you have time, you should understand these arguments in greater depth. As always, the more you prepare the more likely you are to win.

School to prison pipeline (STTP). The STTP argument says that minority students, particularly blacks and hispanics, are more likely to be disciplined in schools and pushed into the criminal justice system.

This is a basic Wikipedia about it.  The primary author debaters read is Jason Nance, a Florida law professor. This is his most recent law review article (August 27th)

On the Pro, many teams argue that the adoption of the probable cause standard will make searches targeted at minorities more difficult, reducing the STTP.  On the Con, many teams argue that adoption of the probable cause standard will cause schools to adopt more surveillance cameras, metal detectors, dog sniffs, and zero tolerance policies, increasing the STTP.

The claim that a fear of insecurity will increases these more dramatic measures is probably the most popular Con argument on this topic. At Yale, I judged two teams [Byram HillsPrinceton] that only made this argument in their constructive

I wrote more about this argument and strategies for answering  it here.

I gave a lecture at Wake Forest about this argument.

Notes — <a href=”http://tinyurl.com/j4z9c2b”>http://tinyurl.com/j4z9c2b</a>

School Violence.  This is the most Common argument in the literature. It simply says that few searches mean more school violence. You can find evidence on this in the Supreme Court decisions discussed above and in this law review article.

I gave a lecture at Wake Forest about this argument.

Notes — <a href=”http://tinyurl.com/hxejcjq”>http://tinyurl.com/hxejcjq</a>

Courts and social change.    A few teams have been making arguments that court action to protect students will spill-over to rights protection in other areas and lead to positive social change.  One team argues that this will lead to a greater protection of privacy and reduce searches of welfare recipients, which is necessary to protect welfare.  Another argues that it will lead to more restorative justice programs.

Con teams need to answer this argument and do a better job of it.

First, there is a book by Gerald Rosenerg, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, that courts undermine social change.

Second, there is some evidence to answer the argument here –

Icon of Courts and Social Change -- Updated 9-11-16 Courts and Social Change -- Updated 9-11-16 -- Subscribers Only (34.8 KiB)

Third, I wrote about how to answer the restorative justice argument here.

Other arguments.  This post is meant to provide a summary of common and basic arguments that students need to be prepared to debate. It is not meant to cover everything.

In debate, however, there is really no limit to the amount of preparation that students can do and the more familiar they are with their arguments and how to answer their opponents arguments the more likely it is that they will win debates.

Once students understand the basic, I suggest downloading and reviewing the evidence in this Master File —

Icon of Probable Cause MEGA File -- 525 pages -- ALL EVIDENCE -- Updated 9-11-16 Probable Cause MEGA File -- 525 pages -- ALL EVIDENCE -- Updated 9-11-16 -- Subscribers Only (877.6 KiB)

And reviewing my flows from Yale. A great way to prepare it to give practice rebuttals against arguments that have actually been made in debates.


There are a lot of arguments to familiarize yourself with if you are just getting started with this topic, but I think if you take initiative follow through these resources you will be in good shape.

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