In recent decades, Congress and state legislatures along with the national and state courts have actively addressed the issues of school crime, violence, and disorder. A large body of law currently affects this area.
Congress has made school-related drug trafficking a federal crime. It has imposed requirements for states to impose penalties for weapons possession in schools. The U.S. Supreme Court has strengthened the search authority of school officials and improved the ability of educators to enforce rules restricting student expression that interferes with safe, orderly schools. The Supreme Court has clearly stated, however, that students carry their civil rights with them into school, even if those rights are less extensive than comparable rights held by adults.
Although it is important for educators to understand their obligations and limitations in maintaining safe schools, it is equally important that they understand and respect the rights of students in the process. Educators concerned with school order and safety should be aware of the following statutes and court decisions:
The federal "schoolyard statute," which is part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, enhances the penalty by making it a federal crime to traffick drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has declared the Gun-Free Zones Act of 1990 unconstitutional (U.S. v. Lopez, 1995), the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 requires states to pass legislation requiring local education agencies to expel from school for at least a year students possessing weapons in school. Exceptions are allowed on a case-by-case basis.
U.S. Supreme Court Decisions:
Veronia School District 47J v. Acton (1995): The Supreme Court held that a school policy requiring all students engaged in interscholastic athletic programs to submit to random urinalysis testing for drug use is constitutional in regard to students' Fourth Amendment privacy rights.
United States v. Lopez (1995): This Supreme Court decision invalidated the Gun-Free Zones Act of 1990, as beyond congressional authority to enact, based on congressional authority under the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution.
Bethel v. Fraser (1986): The Supreme Court held that schools may regulate student speech and may punish students for speech considered to be offensive or disruptive. In the words of the opinion: "The schools, as instruments of the state, may determine that the essential lessons of civil, mature conduct cannot be conveyed in a school that tolerates lewd, indecent, or offensive speech." This decision was distinguished from Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), which held that students have rights of expression within a public school.
New Jersey v. T.L.O (1985): The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school officials do not need a warrant to conduct a student search. All that is necessary is that the search be reasonable. If the search is justified at its inception, according to reason and common sense, it may continue, provided that it is reasonable in scope, and not excessively intrusive in regard to the student's age and sex, and the nature of the infraction. However, the Court majority also noted that students do have Fourth Amendment privacy rights within the school.
Doe v. Renfrow (1979): This Seventh Federal Circuit Court decision allowed smell-sensitive dogs to be introduced unannounced into a junior high school to detect possessors of illicit drugs, as the school had a documented drug problem, and students do not have an expectation of complete privacy in public schools. When a 13-year-old girl was strip-searched because a dog alerted to her, the Supreme Court held that this search violated her Fourth Amendment privacy rights. No drugs were found on her person. The alert of the dog was not held sufficiently reliable to justify such an intrusive search.
Goss v. Lopez (1975): The U.S. Supreme Court established that students are entitled to due process prior to suspension or expulsion. Due process proceedings should occur before suspension or expulsion, except when a student is an immediate danger to himself or others. At the very least, students must be told of the charges against them and given an opportunity to respond to the charges. The amount of due process afforded to a student should be commensurate with the potential penalty to be imposed.
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