WASHINGTON – Even though student molestations seem to be reaching epidemic proportions in schools across America, the House of Representatives has approved a tough new anti-drug and anti-weapon law that would require local districts to develop search policies – including strip searches – with immunity against prosecution for teachers and staff.
Schools would have to develop policies for searching students, or face the loss of some federal funding, under the bill – HR 5295, approved by a voice vote Tuesday. It moves to the Senate, which does not have similar legislation pending at this time.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the National Parent Teacher Association, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association all opposed the bill saying it could invite unconstitutional searches. The National Education Association supports the legislation, according to the sponsor.
The bill was the brainchild of Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Kentucky, who said the idea was to “put a process in place so that the teachers don’t have any fear of liability, but at the same time it protects the rights of the students from an unreasonable search.”
The bill says only that search methods cannot be “excessively intrusive.”
It drew opposition from the American Federation of Teachers, a smaller teachers union, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The “Student Teacher Safety Act of 2006″ passed on a voice vote, bypassing the committee process and with no way to hold individual members of the House accountable for their votes.
Particularly controversial is the requirement that each local school district have search policies in place, with the process defined like this:
“A search referred to in subsection (a) is a search 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. The measures used to conduct any search must be reasonably related to the search’s objectives, without being excessively intrusive in light of the student’s age, sex, and the nature of the offense.”
The bill does not address whether body cavity searches are included, whether training will be provided to staffers performing them, whether background checks on staffers would be necessary, whether students who have been sexually abused in the past would be subject or whether parental notification would be required. Without those specifics, the judgment of local school administrators will be the litmus test.
Some fear the mandate for random, warrantless searches of every student, at any time, on any pretext – with immunity from prosecution – could create problems worse than drugs and weapons on campus.
Rep. George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the House committee that oversees education issues, called the legislation an intrusion into local affairs.
“Schools and school districts already have policies in place regarding student searches,” Miller said. “Those policies are the product of consultation with local administrators, teachers and parents. They take in the concerns of the community.”