Student-Search Court Decision
I would like to lend my support to The Times editorial (Jan. 17) regarding the student-search decision created by U.S. Supreme Court.
My only credentials on the subject are that I am a high school graduate of the 1950s and the mother of two recent high school graduates.
Most reasonable people will agree that the problem of drugs in our country is enormous, and our children are certainly at risk when they are required by law to attend a school that may be open to drug traffic. Should not any reasonable policy that could lessen drugs in our schools be applauded? Is it not our responsibility as adult leaders to also protect the innocent drug-free school children?
My answer is yes. Many of us talk about how we feel that our laws have turned toward more protection for the criminal than for the victim. Aren’t our drug-free children potential victims?
But forgetting the issue of drugs and speaking only to the issue of enforcing school rules, my feeling is that children should be taught to respect school rules. It’s good preparation for life. If we don’t teach our children to respect school laws; how can we expect them to function as responsible adults in today’s world? But, if fad dress or sunglasses are an issue, then maybe school administrators should reconsider regulations that may not be worth enforcement.
I agree with The Times’ belief that ". . . nothing in the decision forbids school officials to act with common-sense restraints, and the ruling can do no harm and may do some good . . .” If the Supreme Court majority’s warning against “unnecessarily intrusive” searches were to be on the lips of the school administrator as he or she begins the search, only good should follow.
Probably nothing is as important as the education of the young people in America. In that education, of course, they are indoctrinated that the constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure is afforded each citizen in American through civic classes and social responsibility classes. Our children are taught that nowhere in the world is there a government such as that in the United States where the government derives its powers from the people through their consent to be governed and are protected by a Constitution that cannot be impinged upon by any elected body.
To some, the notion that young people who must go to a public school by virtue of a law, and thus, be subjected to searches that ordinary citizens might not otherwise be subjected to, may seem repugnant to those principles and ideals. On its face, it certainly appears to be contrary to long established search-and-seizure rules, notwithstanding the fact that there is good cause for the court’s reasoning.
Like all things in life, the way one views it may affect the way one feels about student searches. My view is that rather than saying that students are going to be subjected to lesser standards than adults in school situations, one may take a more positive view and say that attendance at school is accompanied by implied consent to be searched, and in addition, everyone has notice that from time to time the belongings and the personal effects of a student are subject to examination just as persons who travel on airplanes, persons who go into the federal courthouse and other institutions where the protection and safety of the public is of high interest.
The distinction that I think Americans should see is that this is not a stop-and-search situation of a citizen in a public street or other public place; rather it is a specified place under specified conditions of which everyone has notice, that is, students at a public school.
The fact that a searching official no longer has to have probable cause but rather reasonable suspicions is in some respects a game of words because the Supreme Court did not define what it means by reasonable suspicion. Reasonable in whose mind, the searching persons, an average reasonably prudent person, or the court? All of this, of course, will lead to a great deal of litigation.
Why doesn’t the court simply say as a matter of implied consent if you are going to be attending public school one of the conditions, of which you now have notice, is that you will be subjected to searches, but those searches will be conducted on a reasonable basis from time to time in situations where no one will be exploited and always in the presence of two or more adults, preferably of the same sex, and in private, not leading to embarrassment or humiliation. In some respects this seems to me to be an extremely good rule as it is going to be fair notice to everyone attending school not to carry contraband any time or place under those circumstances.
JOHN M. VAN DYKE
The following news article was found in a time capsule floating off the California coast circa 1990.
“News item--Summary of major legal precedents: January, 1985-- Teachers and parents cheer as Supreme Court excludes students from the protection of the Fourth Amendment.
“January, 1986--Administrators and police cheer as Supreme Court excludes teachers and parents from the protection of the Fourth Amendment.
“January, 1987--Citizens cheer as Supreme Court excludes anyone arrested for any reason from the protection of the Fourth Amendment.
“January 1988--State police cheer as Supreme Court excludes citizens from the protection of the Fourth Amendment.
“Jan. 20, 1989--The President-elect looked resplendent in his uniform as he strode to the rostrum to take the oath of office.”
FRANK A. FERRONE