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House Votes to Require School Districts To Do Random, Warrantless Mass Search Policies
By Drug War Chronicle, Issue #454, 9/22/06
In a voice vote Tuesday night, October 18, the US House of Representatives voted to approve a measure that would force school districts across the country to adopt policies allowing teachers and school officials to conduct random, warrantless searches of all students at any time based on the "reasonable suspicion" that one student may be carrying drugs or weapons. Sponsored by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), the Student Safety Act of 2006 (H.R. 5295) had no committee hearings and was fast-tracked to the House floor.
Expect more of this if the Davis bill passes. "Drugs and violence don't belong in our schools," said Rep. Davis during floor debate Tuesday. "I am a firm believer in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, and this legislation doesn't offer a blank check to anyone to conduct random arbitrary searches. The Supreme Court has held that teachers and school officials can use their judgment to make decisions that will help control their classrooms and protect their students. This is simple, commonsense legislation."
Actually, the bill does not offer a blank check for searches, it forces it down school districts' throats. According to an analysis of the bill by the Congressional Research Service, it "requires states, local educational agencies, and school districts to deem a search of any minor student on public school grounds to be reasonable and permissible if conducted by a full-time teacher or school official, acting on any colorable [changed in the final version to "reasonable"] suspicion based on professional experience and judgment, to ensure that the school remain free of all weapons, dangerous materials, or illegal narcotics."
And just to make sure school districts get the message, the analysis notes, the bill "denies Safe Schools and Citizenship Education funds, provided under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, to states, local educational agencies, and school districts that fail to deem such searches reasonable and permissible."
Some House Democrats stood up to oppose the bill. "This bill would strip funding from any school district that decides local teachers and administrators know better than Congress how to make their schools safe," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). "It is a mistake to assume that every student is as guilty as some troubled person. We will stop any new program that would label all youth as guilty," she vowed.
"As someone who taught for six years in one of the toughest schools and communities in the country, I have serious reservations about what this legislation actually does," said Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL). "I am not alone. The American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, the PTA, the ACLU, the American Federation of Teachers, and my own Chicago school district all have concerns. We are concerned that this legislation overrides already enacted school search policies for a one-size-fits-all policy. This bill establishes a policy that gives teachers the authority to conduct searches when that authority should rest with the school board. And it penalizes schools for noncompliance by withholding Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act funds. While we all want our schools to be safe and secure places, this bill is duplicative, unnecessary, and takes away rights that should be reserved to local communities."
While Democrats spoke against the bill in debate Tuesday night, none took the simple step of asking for a roll-call vote, which might have resulted in a defeat for the measure. Since the bill was fast-tracked, it required a two-thirds vote in the House, and it is not clear that the bill could have reached that hurdle had members been forced to vote on the record. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Feds Target High School Athletes For Random Drug Tests
The US Department of Education and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in October announced $8.6 million in federal grants for the implementation of random student drug testing in High Schools.
In order to qualify for a grant, applicants must agree that the random testing pool will be limited to students in ninth through 12th grade, and within that group, all students who participate in the school's athletic program or those who are engaged in competitive extracurricular or school-sponsored activities.
When the policy was created, the primary intention behind testing was to fuel students' efforts to resist peer pressure and avoid drug use.
"By implementing testing, we effectively give students a credible way to resist peer pressure," said the Director of National Drug Control Policy, John P. Walters.
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