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Law Day Essays

LAW DAY ESSAYS

By CAMEO HLEBASKO

Imagine how much time a child spends at school in his or her lifetime. This is one place where a child is "home away from home." School is a place where a child learns the tools to survive in the outside world. High on the school's agenda should be education, safety, students and teachers working together as a team supporting and learning from each other. We must stress the need to keep school a safe place so kids can concentrate on their studies. Some of the problems that are common on school grounds are bullying, vandalism, drugs, weapons and theft. One of the best ways to combat these problems may be to install video cameras strategically all throughout school so the school principal and staff will have the evidence readily on hand to solve the problems.

The advantage of allowing video cameras to be installed on school campuses is that it will provide irrefutable evidence against crimes committed on school grounds. It is also an effective way for trained school security staff to monitor suspicious behavior of students/visitors on a regular basis. I strongly believe that the video cameras will drastically reduce school crimes because not only will it serve as a tool to catch the person of interest in action, but also it will serve as a reminder to students that their behavior is under surveillance. Therefore, it will help to deter crimes from being committed in the first place because of the fear of being video taped. The tapes will undoubtedly present strong evidence, as it will eliminate the "he says, she says" scenario that is common among disputes where there is no reliable witness present at the crime scene.

On the other hand, I have a hard time with giving someone in authority, i.e., cops/security staff the right to search students' lockers randomly as a means to deter crimes in school. I strongly believe this is a case of invasion of privacy. It is a very subjective decision made by the person in charge as to who he/she considers suspicious. I think this will create hysteria/distrust amongst students and teachers unnecessarily. Another down side of this scenario is that the cost of hiring someone full-time for this sole purpose of monitoring campus activity will add to the burden of the school's already tight budget.

In lieu of randomly searching students' lockers, perhaps we can set up procedures to balance safety without compromising students' privacy by installing "Smart Lockers." In order to gain access to the smart locker, each student requires a smart card with information being stored in a database. This information will give the principal and/or security staff ready access to monitor activities of each individual student's suspicious or abnormal behavior. In addition to using the smart lockers, the school could potentially consider hiring special service dogs to sniff out drugs or guns randomly on school grounds.

Some may consider all the above steps as evidence of paranoia on school premises. Others may think all of the above options are unnecessary. However, look at the statistics, "... that on any given school day across the nation .... " we may feel otherwise. According to the published statistics, here is what might occur in school on a daily basis:

• At least 100,000 students bring guns to school;

• 160,000 students skip classes because they fear physical harm;

• 40 students are hurt or killed by firearms;

• 6,250 teachers are threatened with bodily injury;

• 260 teachers are physically assaulted;

• More Americans were killed by handguns between 1990 and 1992 (over 70,000) than were killed in Vietnam during the war (47,364).

In conclusion, if we want to install a sense of security in our children's "playground" known as school, we should stress the importance of defending our children against school violence by exploring every way possible to guarantee that our children in school are safe. The student should feel completely at ease when they go to school everyday. Individual rights should also be respected and protected. Furthermore, students should feel that they are heading to a safe environment with positive vibes for student learning. Every education wasted is a terrible thing.

(Cameo Hlebasko's essay placed third in the Kitsap County Law Day Essay Contest in the middle-school category. She is an eighth-grade student at Woodward Middle School.)

____________________

By KENDALL KARCHER

"It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

— Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District

In 1791, when our country was in its infancy, our founding fathers decided that some rights were so essential that they should be specifically laid out as part of our Constitution and be the basis for our country's legal system. These rights are guaranteed in the first ten amendments to our Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of citizens to be secure against "unreasonable searches and seizures," and emphasizes the role of probable cause in any search.

People are entitled to have a reasonable expectation of privacy whether they are at home, school, or in any other environment. What is reasonable depends on the situation. It is reasonable to assume that when you are in a public place you may be watched, but that if you lock something away in a space designated to you personally, it will remain private. These standards should not be lowered simply because you are in school. It should be a priority of schools not only to protect their students' safety, but also to respect students' reasonable expectations of privacy.

To ensure the safety of its students, it is reasonable for a school to install video cameras in public areas such as hallways. Walking through school halls' is as public as walking down the street. You cannot expect your public actions to be private. Video cameras in school hallways will not only catch on tape any crimes students commit, they will also prevent crimes and school rule violations from occurring in the first place. Knowing that video evidence could be used against them should motivate students to follow the law, school rules, and to treat others with greater respect.

Searching students and their lockers, however, is different from merely observing students in a public place. A student should be able to consider private both their person and their locker without worry of being needlessly searched.

Some justify locker searches by arguing that lockers are owned by the school rather than the student. What is in the locker, however, is not the school's property, it is the students'. The Fourth Amendment declares the right of people to be secure in their effects, and a backpack is and contains a student's personal effects. If it is left open, a backpack may be reasonably searched without a warrant, however, a closed backpack is like a locked safe and a zipped backpack should not be opened and searched by authorities without probable cause.

Searching students themselves is an even greater invasion of privacy than their backpacks because students' reasonable expectations of privacy are at their highest where bodily searches are concerned. While the school may own lockers, it does not own students, and it should not be able to authorize searching them. Courts have ruled repeatedly that a person cannot be searched without good cause or consent. For example, in Jones v. McKenzie, the Supreme Court ruled that schools cannot impose drug testing or other invasive searches on students engaged in involuntary activities such as school attendance. Searching innocent students without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment and the dignity and bodily integrity of the students involved.

The Supreme Court in New Jersey v. T.L.O. set forth a two-pronged test to determine when students may be searched. T.L.O. permits school authorities to lawfully search students without a warrant, but with "reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school." The measures used to search must also be "reasonably related to the objectives of the search" and "not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction."

By definition, random searches are not based upon reasonable grounds to suspect that the search will reveal evidence of a violation of school policy or the law. The scope of any random search is unreasonable and too intrusive if no infraction is even suspected. Randomly searching students violates The Supreme Court's test put in place in T.L.O. to protect students' constitutional rights.

Although some schools would deny students' basic right to privacy in the name of safety, courts have held that students do not shed their constitutional rights by entering school grounds. It is a school's duty to not only protect students' safety, but also to protect students' autonomy and rights as individuals, and to create a learning environment where innocent students don't have to fear needless searches. While some security measures such as video cameras in hallways may be acceptable, schools should not violate their students' personal integrity and rights with intrusive searches of their belongings and persons without probable cause. Society demands that students obey the law. It is only fair that society — including schools - do the same.

(Kendall Karcher, an eighth-grade student at Woodward Middle High School, placed first in the junior high category in this year's Kitsap County Law Day Essay Contest).

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