Social Question

lilikoi's avatar

School backpack searches - for or against?

Asked by lilikoi (10059points) January 18th, 2010

I just watched the latest Brothers & Sisters episode where the Walker family debates school searches. The attorney in the family says they are legal – to the shock of others, including me. Does the 4th amendment not apply to this situation, and if not, why (hoping for law citations here, not opinions)?

Someone else says they should not be done because doing so presumes guilt. I agree with this – one of our country’s principles is “innocent until proven guilty”.

Invoking searches in schools, in my opinion, implies to young impressionable minds that they must comply to searches in general. What is a kid to think when they are forced to be searched at school, at airports… How will they know their 4th amendment rights when they are only exposed to its (controversial) exceptions?

What is your position?

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56 Answers

marinelife's avatar

The dangers of weapons in school (a known danger) outweighs the right to be free from searches.

As to teaching about the issue, it is perfect fertile ground for classroom discussion.

DominicX's avatar

My opinion on this is pretty much a “better safe than sorry” opinion. A kid brought a gun to my school once. The only reason it was found was because of a random search. In this day and age of school shootings, I don’t think it’s too bad of an idea. Maybe we need to tackle the issue of school shootings before we worry about how bad it is to search someone’s backpack.

(I know it’s also for drugs, but as far as I’m concerned, carrying a gun or a knife is worse than carrying weed).

I’ve never been a big hater of searches. Not sure why, it just never seemed to bother me. Partly because I have nothing to hide, the other part I’m not sure.

Response moderated
Violet's avatar

If a student has nothing to hide, there shouldn’t be a problem with searches. It’s a school backpack.
Plus, they are on school property.

lilikoi's avatar

@Violet: If a student has nothing to hide, should s/he be subjected to a search in the first place?

@Marina @DominicX : Eve Ensler on Security, Steven Pinker on the Myth of Violence

La_chica_gomela's avatar

The argument (not saying I agree with it) that the 4th Amendment doesn’t apply is that the school is a surrogate parent, since the child is a minor, and the school is responsible for the child’s well-being while school is in session. This argument becomes murky when you have 18 and older high school students who are being searched. I don’t think it can really be defended then.

Violet's avatar

@lilikoi yes. I’m saying students should have nothing to hide, therefore should be ok with the searches. The kids who don’t want to be searched, are probably hiding something.

lilikoi's avatar

@La_chica_gomela – Thank you.

@Violet – I have nothing to hide. I have no prior convictions, no criminal history. I’ve never done drugs, barely drink alcohol, do not smoke. I always got straight A’s, and once was laughed at by the cafeteria manager for getting detention for something trivial because I was the poster child for “good girl”. I would refuse a search, on principle (which I have explained above), because I believe that the erosion of human rights starts with a triviality like this and becomes a very slippery slope.

DominicX's avatar

@lilikoi

I’m just curious what you think of the example I provided where a kid at my school was caught with a gun in his backpack because of a random search. What would be the alternative method for catching such things? Would it have been better had the search not been done, simply on the basis of principle despite the fact that the search might have prevented disaster?

Now, obviously, people shouldn’t be bringing guns in the first place. But couldn’t the threat of random searches deter such things?

john65pennington's avatar

Apparently, you have never been in a school, when drugs and weapons were taken out of backpacks, school lockers and cars on campus. this is not a law violation, this is for the safety of the good students that come to school for an education, not for a drug deal. i agree with the searches and it does not violate the 4th Amendment. public schools are public property and that makes everyone equal in their rights to an education. weapons and drugs in schools prevents these rights.

Violet's avatar

@lilikoi Then you are are just collateral damage. Sorry, but we much sacrifice people like to to find the real criminals.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

The 4th amendment bans illegal search and seizure by the government.

In an age where more and more dangerous drugs and brought into schools for distribution and weapons of all kinds put students and teachers at risk from those too young to legally carry them, and where well publicized rules prohibit they things in schools, this is not a case of unreasonable search and seizure.

It is reasonable and appropriate and part of learning about rights and freedoms is learning that they are not absolute. The 2nd Amendment does not guarantee people the right the bear arms in school. Schools have the right and obligation to make schools a safe place to teach and to learn.

john65pennington's avatar

Dr Lawrence…i agree and i believe my answer was almost identical to yours.

lilikoi's avatar

@Violet – I respect your views, and you should tolerate mine.

@DominicX – The search may have prevented disaster, we will never know. Perhaps he would never have used it, then we have conducted a pointless search. The 4th amendment works fine in the real world; I don’t understand why it can’t work in schools and airports. I agree that it is a tough balancing act, which is why I posed the question.

DominicX's avatar

@lilikoi

I edited my response too late, but couldn’t the possibility of random searches deter kids from bringing weapons in the first place?

There’s a reason why a slippery slope is called a fallacy, you know. Just because it could happen, doesn’t mean it will. It’s perfectly reasonable that it won’t go any farther than this.

Violet's avatar

@lilikoi ???? I am tolerating your views.

lilikoi's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence The 4th amendment, as I understand it, says in the simplest of words that you need a warrant and probable cause to conduct a search. But if what @La_chica_gomela says is right, then the fact that kids are minors is a trigger.

@DominicX Show me the data to support it and I will get on board with your argument.

@Violet So Sorry! Misinterpreted what you said earlier.

Narl's avatar

I work at a high school and my belongings can also be searched while on school property. I’m fine with it and applaud the school for doing random searches.

You would be amazed with what they find.

Cruiser's avatar

30 years ago my good friend brought his dad’s 22 automatic in his back pack to school because he was getting totally abused by seniors at the school thankfully he didn’t use it. I didn’t report him either but shootings in schools were unheard of in those days. When you total up the numbers since Laurie Dann shot up that school near me 25 years ago we are talking hundreds of incidents.

Just checked….340 since 1992
http://www.schoolshooting.org/

Are we numb to the real problem??? I’d say so! I say search all the backpacks and search often.

lilikoi's avatar

@Cruiser – Yeah, but out of how many kids, and how many schools?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Attendance at school is mandated up to a certain age but students who fail to comply with regulation can be suspended or expelled.

Since compliance with school rules determines who may be allowed on school grounds, when someone voluntarily carries weapons or illegal substances onto school property, they do so knowing the risks and consequences.

Since the searches are known to be a procedure for enforcing the rules and insuring safety, those who bring such contraband do so with the knowledge that they may be searched, their arrival acknowledges their consent to submit to these rules. The searches are thus reasonable and those not wishing to suffer the consequences, can choose to leave their contraband off school campuses.

@john65pennington My earlier comment greatly expanded on yours, bringing in 2nd Amendment issues and stating the link between rights and obligations incumbent on school administrators. I do acknowledge that your contribution preceded mine and was valuable and consistent with what I wrote. I should have cited your prior comment so as to give proper attribution.

Cruiser's avatar

@lilikoi Not sure to tell the truth go to the link and find out! I think it is a national tally.

Ron_C's avatar

Children need to be protected from themselves. I’ve seen 16 year olds that look fully grown, at least until they open their mouths and prove how completely clueless they are.

They also don’t have the same privacy rights as adults. Their backpacks and lockers should be searched. There is nothing wrong with searching school property.

Trillian's avatar

So once again, we have people objecting to the measures taken to ensure safety in our schools. They’ll be the same one demanding action when a gun is brought in and a child killed, saying “Why didn’t you keep our kids safe?” Out of curiosity, how do any of you propose keeping guns out of our schools. You object to searches. What is your answer?

Nullo's avatar

No lawyer am I, but I think that the Constitution pertains to the federal, while the public schools are more likely under state laws.
Laws aside, I don’t think that student searches should be mandatory.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@Nullo Then students bringing guns and drugs into school in acceptable to you?

Nullo's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence
Those would be your words in my mouth, Doctor, not mine.
My own school was -when you add guns and shootings into the equation – very peaceful; broken bones from the occasional hallway fight were the extent of the personal damages, and the occasional possession of marijuana was the worst crime in the place. No doubt there are thousands of others like it.
I think that such schools would have no need for mandatory searches of everybody’s backpacks, and such searches would be resented by the students and the parents both.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I don’t advocate such searches for all schools but I don’t oppose them where guns and rampant distribution of dangerous drugs is a serious problem.

Trillian's avatar

@Nullo. Tell that to the parents of the Columbine students. I’m sure that school was the same way until that day.

avvooooooo's avatar

Schools have the right to search things on school property. They are exempt from the 4th amendment because it is their prerogative to keep kids safe just as all speech, as per the 1st amendment, isn’t allowed and/or protected. This is a non-issue because once you set foot on school property, you are no longer in the “real word,” you’re a part of a controlled environment just as if you stepped into a jail. There are places in this world, school, jails, courthouses, that one can be legally searched. That’s life. You can object to a search, but that puts the presumption of guilt on you and you will likely end up being searched anyway with much more hassle. If you don’t like it, homeschooling is an option.

Nullo's avatar

@Trillian
Find me some and I will.

lilikoi's avatar

@Nullo – Woah Woah WOAH. The Constitution applies to the whole country. I’m no lawyer either, but I am sure of that.

avvooooooo's avatar

@lilikoi You are incorrect.

lilikoi's avatar

@Trillian This is the kind of thinking I was expecting. Because it happened at one school (or a few as the case may be), should we be installing metal detectors and security to search the bags of the whole nation’s adolescents?

@avvooooooo Wait, are you sure you’re American?????? Schools are most certainly not exempt from the Constitution. There is likely an exception within the law that makes it legal.

Trillian's avatar

@lilikoi certainly not metal detectors, they cost too much. A simple search of backpacks for guns or other weapons would suffice. yawn.

YARNLADY's avatar

The interpretation of the Constitution is an ongoing process that takes place every single day at the Supreme Court level. Lawyers argue two mutually exclusive sides, and one wins.
This issue will not be resolved by untrained and inexperienced people on Fluther arguing their own beliefs. Quite often what we believe to be so, is not what the courts have decided, and even when the courts do decide, I have seen it turn out to be mutable.

We can argue our opinions, but to pretend that we arguing “law” is nonsense. I want searches in the schools.

lilikoi's avatar

Interpretation of the Constitution is NOT the same as applicability of it. ALL AMERICANS are held to the Constitution just as all Americans are held to Federal laws, even though State laws only apply to each State.

avvooooooo's avatar

@lilikoi Yes, I am an American. I’m also an adult who has spent some time learning about laws and their applications. There are parts of the Constitution that do not fully apply inside schools, including the 4th and 1st amendments. You can’t say whatever you want inside a school, nor can you bring something potentially harmful onto a campus. The application of the laws for protected properties, some of which I have already listed for you, is different than in other properties that enjoy different protections, such as your home. Just like your home and the street corner are different, schools and the street corner are as well.

lilikoi's avatar

You can’t say whatever you want anywhere. The Constitution grants us rights, but they are not exhaustive. There are exceptions. And they apply to everyone whether you are in a school or not. If parts of the Constitution do not apply to schools, it is not because the school gets to ignore the Constitution, it is because the Constitution grants the schools an exception. I think you and I are on the same page, it was just the wording of your previous post that was ambiguous.

lilikoi's avatar

@Ron_C And that logic extends into adulthood in some ways, too – seatbelts for example. Where does it end?

lilikoi's avatar

@YARNLADY As a citizen of this country, shouldn’t we all understand the laws that we are bound by? If we do not examine the laws for ourselves, who is imposing them on us and what gives them that grand right? A democracy is only effective if its citizens participate, and you can’t participate without knowing the rules.

lilikoi's avatar

@Cruiser Okay, I checked out the link – The map is pretty cool. They included shootings at colleges and universities in the count so that kind of throws things off. But you can clearly see from the map that the majority of shootings resulted in one or no fatalities. Only a handful of schools with minors in them had shootings that resulted in more than one fatality since 1992, and that looks like it includes private schools.

From DOE data, in school year 1990–1991, there were over 109,000 schools with minors in them. This grew to over 132,000 in 2006. It looks like there is about 6000 post-secondary institutions, conservatively. This amounts to 115,000 schools nation-wide, very conservatively. Even if we look at all educational institutions in the U.S., that’s 340 out of 115,000 schools in the nation that have had a shooting in the last 8 years – or just 0.3%. So, some of these people want to search students’ stuff in all of our schools because shootings occurred at 0.3% of them.

According to ABC News, there have been 323 deaths in school shootings over the past 15 years and shootings are the largest cause of violent deaths in schools. There were 111 documented deaths in schools by other means. They also say there are 55 million kids in grade school, and another 15 million in post secondary schools in the U.S. Even assuming searches would have prevented all of these, 444 deaths total, this still amounts to 0.009% of grade-school students dying in school, and that is assuming all deaths occurred in grade school which the link you posted earlier shows otherwise.

Now admittedly, this is a very rough calculation, but I consistently erred on the conservative side. Even if the numbers were off by a whole magnitude, it would still be so small as to not warrant warrantless searches and presumed guilt of our nation’s largely innocent youth.

If you need even further proof, consider that, according to the book Freakonomics (pg 135 – 136), it is more likely that a kid dies by swimming pool than by gun.

Nullo's avatar

@Trillian
I saw a pistol once, a five-round single-action .22 revolver, that was no longer than my forefinger. It was so small that one could easily keep it in a pocket or stuffed into one’s pants, and so ridiculous that, if found, could be mistaken for a toy.
There are other guns that are larger and more deadly, but may still be hidden on one’s person.
@lilikoi
It turns out I was thinking of the First Amendment, which limits the powers of Congress. ”Congress shall make no law,” and so on.

Cruiser's avatar

@lilikoi Here is another fast fact that sheds light as to why there by your statistical analysis shooting incidents appear relatively insignificant. In 1997–98 there were 3,930 students expelled from schools for bringing firearms to schools down from 5,724 the year before. Apparently searches are doing what they should be doing and that is protecting our children from idiots and psychopaths. I don’t have a problem with this at all.
http://www.ed.gov/PressReleases/08-1999/expulsion.html

flo's avatar

@lilikoi If your loved one was killed or maimed during an incident that a search could have prevented, then what would your position be?

Nullo's avatar

@flo
I think that it is wise to make decisions rationally, before circumstance forces emotion into the picture.

flo's avatar

@Nullo thank you. I get that. But citing legallity to prevent from being searched, does not bring about a solution to the problem.

flo's avatar

@lilikoi
@Nullo thank you, I get that. The only problem is citing legalities to prevent from being searched is not solving the problem, right? Who is coming up with a creative solution?

Nullo's avatar

@flo
Well, homeschoolers don’t ever have to worry about criminal classmates. The biggest threat in my fifth-grade class was my sister, and that was only if I annoyed her (which, sadly, I’m rather good at).

flo's avatar

@Nullo , so that is all the problem is all about?

Nullo's avatar

@flo
I don’t think I follow you.

flo's avatar

@Nullo,
The need for searching is only about fifth grade classrooms? I mean the question is not just about the searches in schools, am I right? it is a searching in general, airports etc.

Nullo's avatar

Well, the question and replies all focused on schools, unless I missed one. I was not aware that airports etc. figured into the discussion.
I was home schooled from fifth grade to about halfway through seventh grade; I do not see how that makes a difference, as home school students of any age need not worry about a classmate bringing a gun to class.

flo's avatar

@Nullo I just read the question again, it is about school children. But there is also “What is a kid to think when they are forced to be searched at school, at airports…”

Nullo's avatar

I dunno ‘bout you, but I remember not really being bothered by the bag searches at the airport. I guess I figured that they were trying to catch terrorists but had to look fair about it, and it was a simple twice-per-trip thing, Just make sure that all of the underpants were clean.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Our local school has outlawed all backpacks in the halls or classrooms unless they are open mesh so that whatever is in them is readily visible.

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