Washington Senate Votes to Allow Police to Search Students for Breaking School Rules
Appeals lawyer says law would be challenged as unconstitutional
By Helen Silvis Of The Skanner News
March 08, 2013Washington State Senate has passed a bill that will allow police to search students without their parents consent, if they are suspected of breaking a school rule. But Greg Link a defense attorney with the Washington Appellate project says that if the bill passes it likely will be struck down.
Senate Bill 5618 adds police to the list of school personnel (Pdf file) allowed to search students without parental permission. Previously school principals, vice-principals and school staff designated by the principal were allowed to conduct the searches. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood.
“These are not necessarily criminal matters,” says Aldo Melchiori, a staffer on the Washington State Senate Committee on Law and Justice. “It could be a pack of cigarettes that is against school rules and it could be taken away.”
The bill has not yet become state law. The next step is a House Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for March 14.
Link says if the bill does pass in the Legislature, it will be struck down as unconstitutional.
“I would expect it to be challenged fairly quickly,” Link said. “I think it’s unconstitutional because it violates both the Fourth Amendment and Washington State law.
“The Washington state constitution says you can’t invade privacy without reason to suspect that a crime has been committed,” Link says. “Police officers can’t just conduct suspicionless searches just because they want to.”
The issue of police in schools has been controversial nationally, especially since the Connecticut school shooting. Even though the vast majority of shooting deaths have nothing to do with schools, NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre called for arming teachers. And several cities have moved to increase police presence or security in schools.
After Sandy Hook school shooting the Obama administration allocated $150 million to schools, saying it could be used to hire up to 1,000 more on-campus police or counselors, or purchase security technology.
But civil rights advocates say more police in schools means more children of color caught in the school to prison pipeline.
The ask why we are spending more and more money on law enforcement in schools, instead of making schools safer by meeting the needs of students with inspiring teachers, counselors and staff who can help students with troubles at home?
Susan Ferris of The Center for Public Integrity looked at the issue in her report, “Controversy over cops in schools flares anew.” Ferris found that increasing numbers of police in schools has been accompanied by controversy over racial profiling and what critics say are unjustified arrests for minor discipline problems.
In Los Angeles, for example, more than 40 percent of police tickets went to children under the age of 14, most of them from low-income families. And high-profile cases in New York have found students handcuffed and chained to desks for infractions such as writing on a desk.
In fact, judges in Los Angeles and elsewhere have complained that students are being sent to court for discipline problems that schools should handle.
Lawsuits have followed, Ferris says. The NAACP has filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. And the ACLU has filed several lawsuits against schools, including in New York, Salt Lake City, and Glendale, Calif.
Ferris cites this case: “In DeSoto County, Miss. officers and a school district were sued after a bus surveillance video — seen in part by a reporter — revealed officers unjustifiably arresting black students, the suit alleged, and threatening others with a “a bullet between the eyes.”
Still, across the country, politicians and state legislatures have been moving to add more police to schools. Ferris reports the Department of Justice found police presence in schools increased 40 percent between 19978 and 2007.
Mississippi, Alabama and Indiana are just three states proposing to fund more officers in schools. And Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Oklahoma and South Carolina are all considering bills to arm school staff.