Squat for Teacher

Searching students

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school officials may search students without warrants and test them for drugs without individualized suspicion. But Congress evidently believes students still have too much privacy.

In September, on a voice vote without hearings, the House of Representatives approved the Student and Teacher Safety Act of 2006, which encourages schools to conduct broad searches on slight pretexts. The bill, which has been referred to a Senate committee, threatens to withhold federal funds from districts that do not allow searches “by a full-time teacher or school official, acting on any reasonable suspicion based on professional experience and judgment, of any minor student on the grounds of any public school, if the search is conducted to ensure that classrooms, school buildings, school property and students remain free from the threat of all weapons, dangerous materials, or illegal narcotics.”

An earlier version of the bill, which used the weaker standard of “colorable suspicion,” said the aim was to protect schools and teachers from lawsuits charging violations of students’ Fourth Amendment rights by clarifying what constitutes a “reasonable” search in this context. But requiring schools with relatively strict search policies to loosen them is a recipe for more litigation, as courts grapple with questions such as whether a school-wide strip search is justified by a whiff of marijuana or by one student’s suspiciously red eyes.

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