Anna Gregoline | September 9, 2004
Public schools have the right to conduct searches of students' persons and property when there is reasonable cause to suspect the presence of weapons or drugs. Do you support or oppose such searches?

(Boy, I sure post a lot about school issues.)

John E Gunter | September 9, 2004
I support the searches, due to the fact that the locker belongs to the school, not the student. The student is assigned the locker, but it's not their property.

Course, this also allows for possible abuse by the school, by allowing them to push the 'reasonable cause' clause as far as they feel they can get away with. I would hope that this kind of thing would be properly controlled, but knowing human nature, there will be cases where they really don't have 'reasonable cause' but will search the locker anyway.

An example of 'reasonable cause' failing. This is not a school issue, but happened to me.

At the time this happened, I was driving a white Pacer; you know those fish bubble cars. It was a factory stock car, no booming radios or flashy hubcaps or anything like that. I made a legal u-turn at a traffic light.

When I made the u-turn, a police officer in an unmarked car had pulled up to the opposite light and was turning right. I'm not even sure he stopped at the red before he made his turn, but almost rear ended me after I had completed my u-turn.

I'm sure he felt embarrassed at almost hitting me, so felt he had to redeem himself. He hit his lights and pulled me over, the 2 friends that were with me had to deal with a search of my car for over 30 minutes. Of course, 3 other patrol cars showed up to make sure these dangerous clean cut kids were under control.

So I can see how the possibility of 'reasonable cause' can be abused, but as I said at the beginning, the lockers are school property and the students shouldn't have anything in their lockers, which would be improper, so they shouldn't worry about the occasional search.

John

Kris Weberg | September 9, 2004
Like John, I agree, but with a similar caveat that one man's reason is another man's madness.

However, I would recommend -- not require, because the law can't require this -- that schools explain the policiy not only in punitive terms, but in a manner that might complement a civics education. Talk about the way that reasonable cause is a gray area of the law, and in a sense give students a degree of appeal power.

However, I will disagree with the logic that "the innocent should have nothing to fear from transparency." The innocent, by definition, shouldn't have been searched to start with. To argue that is to claim a state of exception, to call the school an arena where normal law, with its rigorous presumption of innocence, has been weakened or failed. It is to say that the guilty are rampant, and that anyone may be guilty, a kind of reversal of the formula of presumed innocence.

Once searched on causes that prove false later, the innocent have been subjected to an unnecessary and often embarrassing search, something that takes on the social character if not the legal dimension of punishment. A little discussion and debate about reasonable cause, even one necessarily weighted in the school's favor, could do a lot to diminish the impact of that (hopefully) unwanted consequence.

Scott Horowitz | September 9, 2004
A few things. I agree with what John said about the lockers not being property. Here are a few things. A student does not have civil rights. These rights apply to adults (hence forth why when a child commits a crime, they typically are prosecuted differently). When you enter the schoo, you forfeit any rights you may have in terms of possession. If a teacher feels that students have weapons or drugs, checking every locker is due cause.

Oh, and back to your car thing, John. Technically that cop violated your civil rights by checking your trunk. You should have pleaded the 4th Amendment to the cop. He probably would have arrested you. But, you would have gotten the cop in a lot of trouble most likely.

Anna Gregoline | September 9, 2004
I think it's really hard to get a cop in a lot of trouble. They can make up any story they want about why they pulled you over.

Kris Weberg | September 9, 2004
Students don't have full civil rights -- courts have ruled that minors have limited civil rights, hence such stuff as work permits for minors and, in fact, enhanced legal rights relating to criminal and civil trials.

However, the fact that they don't have property rights over their lockers shouldn't be an excuse to treat students as though they won't one day have full civil rights. How better to teach them the exercise of those rights than to provide a limited, artificial version of such to students who are old enough to possess abstract reasoning capabilities as "practice?"

Kris Weberg | September 9, 2004
A sidebar: It is a legal paradox or inconsistency that adults who demonstrate a lack of adult reasoning capacity can be treated effectively as though they were still minors, while minors who demonstrate adult reasoning capacity can never gain (most) full legal rights before the age of 18.

John E Gunter | September 9, 2004
Pacer, no trunk, but I thought about that kind of approach, but felt it would be better to stand on the side of the road then spend the night in jail, no matter what kind of trouble I could get mister cop in.

Plus, most police do a thankless job, so I am more inclined to turn a blind eye to 30 minutes of inconvenience when nothing bad happened. Yes, that kind of thinking can possibly allow for a stronger police state, but nothing has changed from that incident in the past 20 years.

John

Anna Gregoline | September 9, 2004
I agree with you - I am a reasonably law-abiding citizen, and I have the utmost respect for police officers - it's a stinky job that I wouldn't have the patience for. I've only had one officer be a jerk to me, and that was when I did a dumb thing in a car coming out of my high school parking lot - he just gave me a warning, but was really mean and gave me a lot of time to get worried. I'm sure he was just trying to instill some caution in me. The other times I've encountered the police in my memory was a speeding ticket (the guy was cheerful and I was too, because, damn, they got me, speed trap), and when we had our home burglarized, and both officers that came were very nice and respectful.

Scott Hardie | September 10, 2004
There's another element to this issue, in loco parentis, the idea that public schools have the duties and responsibilities of parents when in session. Most schools operate under this policy; it's the standard. It means the school must know where the student is at all times and that they aren't breaking the law, but it also benefits families by making schools responsible for kids. It sucks to have your locker searched if you're a stoner teenager, but it's a pretty good thing if you're the teenager's parent.

Melissa Erin | September 12, 2004
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