House Approves Strip Search Bill
A bill approved by the U.S. House yesterday would require school districts around the country to establish policies making it easier for teachers and school officials to conduct wide scale searches of students. These searches could take the form of pat-downs, bag searches, or strip searches depending on how administrators interpret the law.
The Student Teacher Safety Act of 2006 (HR 5295) would require any school receiving federal funding--essentially every public school--to adopt policies allowing teachers and school officials to conduct random, warrantless searches of every student, at any time, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Saying they suspect that one student might have drugs could give officials the authority to search every student in the building.
Details below the fold...
Sec 3. Searches Based On Reasonable Suspicion.
(a) IN GENERAL.-- Each local educational agency shall have in effect throughout the jurisdiction of the agency policies that ensure that a search described in subsection (b) is deemed reasonable and permissible.
(b) Searches Covered.-- 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.
Sec 4. ENCOURAGEMENT TO PROTECT STUDENTS AND TEACHERS
(a) IN GENERAL.-- A local educational agency that fails to comply with section 3 shall not, during the period of non-compliance, receive any Safe and Drug Free School funds after fiscal year 2008.
Here is the status of HR 5295:
9/19/2006 Passed/agreed to in House: On motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended Agreed to by voice vote.
9/20/2006 Referred to Senate committee: Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
This legislation mandates that every public school provide a policy that permits teachers and school officials to conduct invasive searches of any type on minors, including strip searches. The legislation also insulates those that conduct the searches from liability by requiring that school policy deem such searches as 'reasonable' and 'permissible.'
This is what the PTA has to say about it:
Though we laud your efforts to make our classrooms safer, we believe this legislation fails to create constructive policy that will actually improve the safety of students and school personnel. Instead, as noted in Sec.2(13) of the bill as introduced on May 4, 2006, this legislation will only "help to insulate teachers and school officials who conduct student searches from lawsuits." In this age of zero-tolerance policies, we must be cautious to not overextend the government's reach. We must allow schools and districts to set policy according to the needs and special circumstances of that school and community.
Further, this legislation fails to provide any resources to reduce drugs and violence in our schools. In fact, the funds that would be denied schools that fail to comply with this legislation are the very resources intended to help make our schools safer. The Safe and Drug Free Schools program provides funds for drug- and violence-prevention activities focused primarily on school-age youths. These activities may include developing instructional materials; providing counseling services and professional development programs for school personnel; implementing community service projects and conflict resolution, peer mediation, mentoring and character education programs; establishing safe zones of passage for students to and from school; acquiring and installing metal detectors; and hiring security personnel. What's more, Congress has cut funding for this program by nearly 50 percent since 2002 and plans to cut an additional $36.5 million in fiscal 2007 appropriations.
The PTA isn't the only organization opposed to this legislation. It is also opposed by the National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Great City Council Schools (Source). Another interesting opponent to the legislation is Congress's own legal advisors. The 'Congressional Research Service' says this about the legislation, in part:
Under H.R. 5295, school districts that receive federal funds under the Safe and Drug-Free School programs would be required to establish certain policies with respect to schoolbased searches. Specifically, school districts would be required to establish policies deeming reasonable and permissible: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.
In addition to considerations of constitutional jurisprudence, any federal legislation requiring school districts to establish a uniform school search policy would also have implications for federalism, i.e., the relationship between the federal government and the states and the relative autonomy of each. Traditionally, education, public health and safety, and law enforcement have all been issues that are primarily governed by state and local law, largely because of the local nature of these issues. Enacting federal legislation with respect to school-based searches could therefore interfere with state and local law in areas of traditional state and local responsibility.
One of the most troublesome aspects of this legislation is that it requires that the determination of 'reasonableness' be left to the person conducting the search, based upon their professional experience and judgment. Personally, I'd feel uncomfortable entrusting the invasiveness of search procedures to every individual teacher or school officials 'Professional Experience and Judgment.' Here's a sampling of such 'Professional Experience and Judgment' that would be permissible under this legislation:
McMINNVILLE, Ore. No charges will be filed against the two adults who had 34 middle-school girls strip-searched by police in a hunt for stolen cash, CDs and makeup.
District Attorney Brad Berry said Friday he found no evidence of criminal intent in the Jan. 29 search at Duniway Middle School and no grounds for charges of sexual abuse or official misconduct against the vice principal or the policeman who was liaison officer at the school.
"That does not mean mistakes were not made," the district attorney said. "Whether or not that's a civil rights violation, for example, or some other civil violation, that's not my concern."
Since the search, the officer has been reassigned, and the vice principal resigned.
The girls, ages 12 to 14, were searched after no one would admit to the theft of CDs, makeup and cash from the locker room.
Two women from the police department were called in and the girls were taken into the locker room, where they were asked to take off their shoes and socks, shake out their bras, and pull down their pants and underwear to see whether anything fell out. Nothing did. (Source)
One student, Matt Klassen, 15, said after a classmate reported $90 missing from his gym bag, vice-principal John MacDonald and gym teacher Dan Bondy "made us go into the phys ed office one at a time and we had to take our clothes off in front of them."
He said he was told to remove his underwear as well. "I was embarrassed. They told me to bend over but I just crouched. It was kind of frightening."
Matt said all the boys in the class -- about 25 -- were upset by the incident and yesterday hundreds of students left the school at lunch time and stayed out for more than an hour in protest.
"The whole town is in an uproar," said Ed Hardy, whose son Jay, 14, was the first to be searched. "I've talked to the teachers and the Board of Education because I don't agree with their actions." (Source)
The strip search was prompted by a teacher who accused the four boys of stealing her ring. Another administrator pulled the boys out of gym class and forced them to individually strip down to their underwear, jump up and down, and wiggle their toes. The administrator threatened to call the police and send the boys to jail "for a long time" if they did not comply. The ring was never found. In his deposition, the administrator claimed that the search was one of his "best" and that he learned the invasive procedure from his former supervisor. (Source)
The case stems from a May 2000 incident in which a high school student reported that money had been taken from her gym bag during gym class. In an unsuccessful attempt to find the money, teachers, at the direction of the acting principal, strip-searched all members of the gym class. The boys were forced to pull down their pants and underwear while they were examined by a teacher. The girls were forced to stand in a circle and pull up their shirts and pull down their shorts. (Source)
I believe that each one of these 'Mild' examples reflects the potential for abuse under this legislation. Each one of the teachers and school officials undoubtedly believed that their actions were 'reasonable,' and under this legislation it would be. There is nothing in the legislation to prevent some sicko from strip searching children for his own depraved pleasure, and then justifying it as a search for drugs or weapons, based upon his 'Professional Experience and Judgment.' The Courts would ultimately determine the 'Reasonableness' of such conduct, but in the meantime the children are forced to endure it. That is unacceptable!
As a side note... it's interesting to note that one of the co-sponsors of the legislation is none other than Foley enabler John Shimkus. If that wasn't enough, John Boehner had this to say:
Parents should be able to have confidence that their children are in a safe environment while at school. (Source)
Somehow, I just don't have alot of confidence in Foley enablers talking about the safety of children, and this legislation is the perfect example of the 'Wrong' way to go about achieving that.
Thanks for listening to my rant...