Public schools

My Daughter's Middle School Plans to Teach Her Meek Compliance With Indiscriminate Invasions of Privacy

It's never too early for kids to learn that harebrained security theater is an unavoidable fact of life.


Plano ISD

Late Friday afternoon, I received a notice from the Plano Independent School District, which runs the middle school our youngest daughter attends in Dallas, describing a new policy authorizing "random, suspicion-less metal detector searches" of students in grades 6 through 12. The district plans to use "both walk-through and hand-held metal detectors" on "random groups of students," who will be required to "remove all metallic items from their pockets and person." In addition, "backpacks, bags and personal items capable of concealing a weapon will be opened and inspected for the presence of weapons." Any student "who refuses to comply with the search process will be removed from campus and subject to disciplinary consequences."

This wholesale invasion of privacy, which is supposed to "prevent and deter students from bringing weapons to school," seems to be part of the reaction to the mass shooting that killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School near Houston last May. Yet it manifestly would do nothing to prevent such an attack. Instead it will create the illusion of safety while teaching young people that their Fourth Amendment rights are inconsequential enough to be sacrificed for such a show and that any response other than meek obeisance to arbitrary examinations of their personal effects will be met with swift and sure punishment.

According to the Supreme Court, targeted searches of public school students require "reasonable suspicion" that contraband will be discovered, which is a lighter burden than the usual standard of "probable cause" but still better than nothing. The constitutional rationale for Plano ISD's new policy, which was unanimously approved by the school board in August, is that the searches are "administrative," meaning there is no reason to believe that any particular student forced to undergo them is carrying a weapon. Perversely, this complete lack of evidence is supposed to make the searches compatible with the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The legal defense of this policy requires that the selection of students for searches be random, which explains why that word appears half a dozen times in the school district's notice. "It is a truly random process," Plano ISD spokeswoman Lesley Range-Stanton told The Dallas Morning News. I have my doubts.

According to Plano ISD, "Examples of random groups include, but are not limited to, all students in a classroom, all students in a particular section of the building, all students in a specific hallway after the tardy bell, all students entering/exiting a selected door, all students on every third bus, etc." Will school officials be rolling dice both to choose one of these methods and to make a selection based on it? If not, the process won't be truly random. Nor is picking "all students in a specific hallway after the tardy bell," which sounds like either punishment disguised as a security measure or a basis for suspicion, which random selection is supposed to avoid.

Even if we assume that the selection of students for searches will be completely untainted by discretion, the policy won't necessarily hold up in court. "In the event of a legal challenge," the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) notes in a 2018 memo about metal detectors, "the court must balance the nature of the privacy interest involved and the character of the intrusion with the nature and urgency of the school district's concerns and the efficacy of the metal detectors in addressing the concern."

In 2003, the TASB notes, a Texas appeals court upheld "a search procedure at an alternative learning center that required all students entering the center to empty their pockets and walk through a metal detector." But that program was different from Plano ISD's in several ways that may be legally significant: It was adopted by a school that "the court deemed to be at high risk for drugs and violence," it did not include backpack searches, and it used fixed metal detectors at entrances through which all students walked in the morning, as opposed to wanding and searching "random groups" throughout the school and day.

The TASB does not cite any case in which a Texas court has approved roving metal detectors in public schools, although it notes a 1996 Florida decision upholding such a program in Dade County. In that case, however, "backpacks, coats, and other belongings" were wanded but not automatically searched.

In a 2013 University of Colorado Law Review article, University of Florida law professor Jason Nance analyzes the relevant Supreme Court cases (one involving a purse search, the other two involving drug tests) and concludes that random, suspicionless searches in public schools must be based on "particularized evidence of a substance abuse or weapons problem." In 2004, Nance notes, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit rejected the Little Rock School District's random, suspicionless searches of students' belongings because they were based on nothing but "generalized concerns about the existence of weapons and drugs in schools."

By way of explaining Plano ISD's new search policy, The Dallas Morning News notes that in May "a Plano West Senior High School student was arrested on suspicion of plotting an ISIS-inspired mass shooting at Frisco's Stonebriar Centre mall." The paper also mentions the Santa Fe High School shooting that same month. Neither incident amounts to "particularized evidence" of a weapon problem at, say, our daughter's middle school.

In any case, it strains credulity to imagine that a program like the one Plano ISD has adopted would deter someone bent on mass murder. As the TASB notes regarding metal detectors at entrances, "there is no guarantee…that a metal detector will stop a determined individual with a weapon." It cites a 2005 attack in Red Lake, Minnesota, where "a student shot and killed seven people at his high school, including an unarmed security guard who was operating a metal detector at the main entrance." Periodically scanning "random groups" of students would be even less of an obstacle to a mass shooter.

When I described the new Plano ISD policy to our daughter, she reacted indignantly. My fear is that after six years of random searches she and her fellow students will see them as no big deal, having been conditioned to accept invasive, harebrained security theater as an unavoidable cost of going about their daily lives. That is not the sort of civics lesson I want my children to absorb.

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  1. My fear is that after six years of random searches she and her fellow students will see them as no big deal

    This would be where Dad steps in a libersplains to her what’s what.

    1. Dad’s not in the picture

    2. Then dad should have her record any encounter.

  2. What an interesting local story.

    1. Are you suggesting that the families of the commentariat are somehow as important as the families of the staff?

    2. Now that’s freaking funny.

    3. There’s nothing wrong with reporting this. This sort of abuse of the 4th amendment is happening everywhere and it the system’s attempt to indoctrinate kids into giving up their rights to train them for adult hood.

      1. The back story is that Sloopy’s mom, a nurse, was bodyslammed and cuffed by a cop at a high school basketball game for rendering emergency medical assistance to a kid on the court. Reason declined to report on it, much to Sloopy’s chagrin.

  3. Since many mass shootings involve current employees at their workplace, perhaps the Plano ISD can explain why faculty, staff and administration aren’t subject to the random searches.

    1. they’ve already been indoctrinated to the benefits of bowing to illegal search and seizure via extension of them being employees of the government

  4. “That is not the sort of civics lesson I want my children to absorb.”

    But it’s exactly the sort of civics lesson the government wants them to absorb. Maybe you should spring them from the government schools and teach them yourself?

    1. That’s right. A pure market solution.

  5. sue the school for violating the 4A, and put the resulting money into the college fund.

    1. Oh you think these searches are unreasonable? Courts disagree, therefore there’s no violation of the 4th amendment.

      1. It’s always worth trying since there is a new conservative in the supreme court. although he has kind a shitty record on the bill of rights other than the second amendment, ya never know.

  6. You know, I used to think it was shit that my high school had razorwire on top of the fence and a single cop in it. Gates still weren’t locked and none of my earlier schools had anything like that.

    We laughed at the assistant principal when he got radios for the hall monitors.

    Now look where we are.

    1. Peter Suderman and Robby Soave would have been hall monitors, writing you up if you were heading to the bathroom without a pass.

    2. No school I went to had any cop anywhere near it and certainly no metal detectors. Basically no security whatsoever.

    3. Goddamn you had razorwire on top of the fence and a cop was in it? You guys played rough with the cops. Was that a warning to the local sheriff’s office to not try to come on campus. You guys were pretty fucking gangsta.

  7. Have any of these shootings involved someone sneaking? Doesn’t it always involve someone just walking in with a rifle?

    Wouldn’t a gaggle of kids bottlenecked at a metal detector be an ideal target?

    1. Logic and reason are not welcome at school.

    2. All the ones I’ve read about they just walked in with guns blazing.

      1. I’m talking about random schools shootings here, not inner city gangster hits where they sneak a gun in and shoot one person.

  8. We will randomly check the suspects that we suspect the most, but it will all be random! And then we wonder why students don’t learn logic or honest communications skills in school.

    Lesson for students: Government Almighty wants to micro-manage your life, and acknowledges few real limits to its powers.

  9. Was there not enough room in the article to explain that the school district accepts full, complete, and unlimited liability for any misfortune that could have been avoided by armed students? Didn’t think so.

    Maybe the school should institute firearms training classes? The NRA provides a wide selection suitable for all ages.
    For middle schools, knives are lighter and less fatiguing to carry all day, close quarters edged weapons training might be more appropriate.

    The true lesson here is to elect a school board fully committed to true school choice.

  10. Reason to homeschool # 6751

  11. I think we should have random house searches as well if thats all it takes to be legal. Lets start randomly searching all politicians.

  12. To be fair, “meek compliance” is the primary goal of school, and it always has been. No student was ever “successful” in school without compliance to authoritarian figures who devise and oversee a vast assortment of pointless, time-sucking activities.

    Security theater is just the newest terrible, stupid thing about school.

    1. I tell any new kid going to high school and college its not really about the studying for grades its about cow towing to the teacher. I didn’t learn that until my Junior year of college and then i quit

  13. Home School !

  14. “all students in a specific hallway after the tardy bell

    Always going after the deaf kid.

  15. It would make sense for parents like Sullum to complain, but no doubt most of the other parents are all for it, believing it’s the only way to prevent a school shooting. Idiots.

    I’m waiting for the day when there’ll be some late night commercial for some ambulance-chasing law firm: “Do you or a loved one suffer from mesothelioma as a result of multiple exposures to metal detectors at school? You are entitled to compensation! Call 1-800-SKL-SCKS…

  16. If the metal detectors were to reveal that a third of the students were packing, no shooter would dare show up to initiate force. The opposite is true where they go to the trouble to turn the school into a carnival shooting booth–at least judging by the news. There are a lot of anti-Bill-of-Rights activists convincing youths to become berserkers. The idea is evidently that the initiation of force by self-sacrificing cretins will cause Americans to abandon retaliatory justice–like from 1964 to 1996 when they wanted us to Freeze and Surrender instead of shoot down attacking missiles.

  17. I’d like to point out where the school board or the courts or both called this “administrative” What other law has denied rights to a certain class of people under the guise of “civil regulation” Class? Anyone?

  18. Wasn’t one of Alinsky’s rules for radicals to take over the educational system?

  19. Lets see if sullum has the balls to sue the school districts into oblivion.

    1. Refuse search. Sent home. Federal funds cut. Everybody happy except the school administrators and maybe the parents.

  20. I’d suggest a three-prong approach:

    First, educate your daughter on the fourth amendment, as written. Teach her to respond “what is your probable cause?” and when the school thug bloviates and threatens, teach her to respond “no probable cause stated — request denied.” Make sure she understands what she is doing and what it means so she can improvise if absolutely necessary.

    Second, find an attorney willing to fight this, and make sure your daughter knows the name and phone number. Further arm her with a cell phone with this number preloaded. Make sure she uses this cell phone ONLY to contact the lawyer, to minimize it being stolen from her by another school thug.

    Third, have everything in place to home school, since that seems inevitable.

  21. I feel for Sullum and his daughter. I really do. I am puzzled as to why he has her in public school in the first place, but I understand that sometimes life circumstances can make that all but inevitable.

    I was born in 1980 and turned 21 just before 9/11. Hence, I am one of the very last Americans to have a meaningful memory of what it was like to go into a public building without having to submit to a cavity search. I also remember going about my business without having my movements tracked and being constantly on camera. I make it a point to tell young people about this, if only to give them a vague awareness that the security state is not the only way that things can be.

    1. I’m quite a bit older. I remember when I could bring a shotgun to school (kept in a pickup truck’s gunrack or the trunk of a car) to go dove hunting in the afternoon.

      On Russ Roberts’ suggestion, I recently starting reading Solzhenizyn’s In the First Circle about forty years after my reading of The First Circle. In the early chapters of my re-reading, I was struck by how my impressions from the novel had changed. In my first reading, I recall thinking how utterly, awfully totalitarian a government would have to be to develop technology to record everybody’s phone conversations. On re-reading, I realized that the current US government is every bit as intrusive as the Soviet government was, and then some. As Edward Snowden said, his greatest fear was the Americans would passively accept the fact that they have no privacy.

      1. With regard to losing all of our rights, wasn’t it Mussolini who said (I’m paraphrasing here…): A chicken doesn’t know it’s being plucked if you do it one feather at a time. ….

      2. I’ll put it in my reading list. Thanks.

  22. First, I would like to note that none of the schools my father attended as a child, the same schools where he brought his rifle to school for after school shooting activities, was ever shot up by a school shooter. Perhaps the fact that a couple teachers, and a grip of students had access to firearms was a deterrent? Whoda thunk?

    Second, this is obviously useless. Full searches of 100% of students is equally useless. The guy manning the metal detector merely needs to be the first victim, obviously!

    How can people be so dumb about this stuff? Even if you don’t care about muh rites! You should at least concoct a viable, evil, rights destroying plan to achieve the ends you desire. Perhaps a metal detector 100% of people have to go through. Bulletproof glass that the armed guard stands behind, that blocks off the entire width of the hall. Every student has to individually step into a special chamber where they and their backpacks are scanned. Once cleared they can then proceed into the building and pick up their backpack and carry on. WINNING!

    No shooter could get past such a Nazi-esque check point! It’d be horrible, and awful… But at least it’d be effective. Security theater that pisses on your rights and doesn’t even get the job done is simply ridiculous from all angles.

  23. Two Words:


    1. Let me know when your house spouse can teach AP chemistry, physics, calculus, computer science, biology and history to help lop time off my kid’s college degree time. Until then I’ll consider public school a good investment and failing kids are the parent’s problem of poor discipline. Thank you for helping to pay for my kid’s schooling with your local taxes paid in.

      1. I took a couple of AP classes in high school. Then I went to college and took some actual college courses. They were nothing alike.

        In my experience AP is just high school level classes on crack. They’re taught like high school courses but they just cover way more material. In a (good) college class, you don’t necessarily cover a large quantity of material, but you do go way deep into it, trying to master it, to find the bottom. My experience made me wonder whether the people who designed these AP courses had ever actually been to college.

        On the flip side, they can save you from paying for a few credit hours, which can be a shit ton of money for nowadays. Just don’t think that you have to be some kind of genius to teach an AP class or to understand the material. Although you do have to be kind of a masochist to get through it.

  24. Random body cavity searches for the administration.

  25. But, think of the children! Who is going to be blamed if the policy is ended and a shooting happens?! The horrors!

  26. At last, a constitutional and legal alternative to pulling the fire alarm and getting out of class. Should be popular if they figure it out.

  27. How many federal dollars will they lose each time someone refuses to be searched?

  28. They do this in the Military at gates etc…however I think a more effective policy for schools would be metal detector entrances (monitored/and everyone is scrutinized that way every day) and locked doors….the doors were not locked at Parkland, who knows what that would have forced to the shooter to do if he confronted a locked door. Our doors when I went to school used to open from the inside. Teachers were on assignment monitoring between bells….sure you can always create a plan to go around anything but from what I see these schools make it way to easy and have the “it’s never going to happen in our town” disease.

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