Opinion

Rights are good for all citizens

“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 School, placed first in the junior high category in this year’s Kitsap County Law Day Essay Contest. (See page 5.)

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