Good Example Of The Definition Of Reasonable Suspicion Has Been Expanded Upon Multiple Times Since 1985. Essay
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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between one in five and one in three high school students in America have used drugs or alcohol (“Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends,” 2014). Many of these children have their first exposure to drugs while they are at school (“Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends”). It should be a priority of school administrators to make each campus a drug-free environment, and that is why teachers should have the right to search students for drugs on school grounds.
There are those who would argue that searching students for drugs violates their Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to unreasonable search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons and or things to be seized (“When the Fourth Amendment Applies”).
However, depending on the state and district, the first ten amendment rights may not be applicable within school zones (Ehlenberger). For example, schools routinely censor their newspapers in order that inappropriate or offensive materials not be published. Private and even public schools may also forbid certain types of dress. Outside school, students can speak their mind and dress as they please; within school, some restrictions may apply.
In fact, the subject of searching students has been taken to the Supreme Court many times. In the 1985 Supreme Court case New Jersey v. T. L. O., the Court concluded that, given reasonable suspicion, school administrators do not need a warrant or probable cause to search students (Ehlenberger). The requirements of reasonable suspicion are met when (a) there are “reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will reveal evidence (Ehlenberger)”, and (b) the scope of the search is in proportion with the seriousness of the offense. This means that the search should not be “excessively intrusive” in light of the age and sex of the student, or in light of the nature of the crime thought to be committed.
Some of the revisions have been to protect students; some have increased the power of school officials to conduct searches. As reported by Ehlenberger, according to A. S. vs. The State of Florida (1997), “If four students are huddled closely together, that does not constitute sufficient grounds to conduct a drug search.” But by Bridgman v. New Trier High School District No. 203 (1997), if an experienced drug counselor believes that a student is under the influence of drugs, he or she is justified in taking the student's pulse and blood pressure. In 2014, if a teacher or administrator is given reasonable suspicion, then he or she has the legal right to search students. However, this does not mean that the odor of marijuana in the hallway provides enough evidence for all the students' bags, lockers, and purses to be searched.
There are some schools where drug use among students is rare. But there are other schools where drug use on and off campus is rampant. If a school is known to have a drug culture, the use of randomized searches can help make sure students keep their drugs at home, without singling out any particular student (Feldman).
We must ask whether the right of a student not to be searched is more important than the right of his or her classmates to have a drug-free school. I argue that it does not. In most cultures, the rights of the many are thought to outweigh the rights of the individual. A school should be a place of safety and learning. The student who brings drugs to school violates the rights of other students not to be in an environment where illegal substances are being used and sold. Is a student's individual right not to be searched more important than the collective rights of his classmates to go to a drug-free school?
Another argument put forth against the searching of students is the fact that drug searches will not prevent students from engaging in drug use. This is a valid point – a student who is likely to use drugs will most likely use them in a place other than on school grounds. However, drug searches will at least help maintain a safe campus and prevent the use and sale of drugs at school. By conducting searches and exercising reasonable suspicion, teachers can reduce the risk of harm to their students.
One may argue that if a student is searched but found not to be carrying drugs, it can humiliate the student and hurt his or her self-esteem. This is a small price to pay compared to the price of allowing drugs to be used and sold at school. But if in fact the student is found to be carrying drugs, then the discovery may lead to an intervention for the student. Additionally, if drugs are found then the search will have clearly been justified, and by removing the student and the drugs from school, the other students will be removed from harm.
Finally, no one has a reasonable expectation of privacy in public. If you have a conversation with your friends about using drugs while in public, other people can record your conversation on their smartphone. If you smoke marijuana in public, someone can take a picture of you and text it to the police. If the police suspect you of doing drugs in public, they can stop and search you (“When the Fourth Amendment Applies”). A high school is a public place and is no exception to this rule.
In school, as in most public settings, students give up their right to their own personal property to people of authority (Ehlenberger). For example, if a teacher asks a class to turn over all their cellphones to him during a test, then his students are required to comply. If they do not, they may risk failing the class or being kicked out of the school. Likewise, if a person does not cooperate with an officer of the law, he or she may be arrested for noncompliance. In that way, schools hold their own jurisdiction over students and teachers are like law enforcement officers.
However, whatever a teacher's suspicions may be, a student still has the right to bodily autonomy (Feldman).Whether the student has drugs or not, no one besides the police has the right to touch anyone else without their consent. Nevertheless, a school official still has the right to search a student's backpack or to ask the student to empty his or her pockets. If the student refuses, he or she may be sent home or suspended. The student's locker, which does not belong to the student and is actually school property, can be searched. Whatever expectation of privacy the student thinks he or she has, it must always be trumped by the school’s right to enforce a rigorous standard of safety.
The requirement of reasonable suspicion will prevent the unjustified or illegal use of search (Feldman). It will ensure that students will only be searched if a teacher has probable cause. Most students will have nothing to worry about and will not be affected.
“Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Web. Dec. 2014.
Ehlenberger, K. R. “The Right to Search Students.” Understanding the Law 59.4 (2001): 31- 35. Dec 2001.
Feldman, Amy E. “When does a public school have the right to search its students?” The National Constitution Center. 31 May 2013.
“When the Fourth Amendment Applies.” FindLaw. Web. 2014.
Thesis: It should be a priority of school administrators to make each campus a drug-free environment, and that is why teachers should have the right to search students for drugs on school grounds.
1. Argument against: Searching students violates their 4th amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
2. Argument for: The first ten amendment rights don't necessarily apply within school.
1985 Supreme Court Decision
1997 Supreme Court Decision
3. Argument against: If a student is searched but they don't have drugs, the student will suffer embarrassment.
4. Argument for: Embarrassing a student is a small price to pay compared to the price of allowing drugs at school.
5. Argument for: Students do not have an expectation of privacy when they are at school.
6. Argument against: No, but they do have a right not to be touched without their permission.
7. Argument for: We rely on teachers to provide guidance and moral authority, which they can't do if they are prevented from enforcing drug rules.
Conclusion: Not only should teachers have the right to search students, it is their responsibility to do so to maintain a safe and drug-free school.
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