Civil Libertarians Worried About Tough Security

Civil Libertarians Worried About Tough Security
Posted by FoM on September 06, 1999 at 14:51:27 PT
measures at nation's schools 
Source: Boston Globe
WASHINGTON (AP) As America's children head back to school, security-conscious school administrators are also having to think about students' rights. 
Bloody tragedies, especially last April's incident in which two students at Columbine High School in Littleton Colo., gunned down a dozen classmates and a teacher before killing themselves, left an indelible mark. As a result, police officers, metal detectors, student ID cards and surveillance cameras are part of life in schools across the nation. So are routine backpack searches, increased use of drug tests, stricter dress codes and less tolerance for schoolyard taunts or threats. All of this worries Nadine Strossen, national president of the American Civil Liberties Union. ''We're seeing the equivalent of Fortress America, and students' privacy rights and freedom of speech are under attack from within,'' she said. But the ACLU, aggressively challenging policies in many public school districts, may be fighting an uphill battle. ''In the wake of increasing violence, courts seem to have become more deferential to school districts' genuine concern for student safety and security,'' said Cynthia Prettyman, general counsel for Palm Beach County, Fla., schools. ''Students still have rights and I'm sure the ACLU will stay on top of this, but any legal challenge will face a high hurdle.'' Still, some students have won. In Allen, Texas, senior Jennifer Boccia is back in school after having last spring's suspension expunged from her record. She and nine other students wore black armbands to class to mourn the Columbine victims and to protest new rules imposed in their school as a result. Jennifer, an honors student, was suspended after ignoring an order to remove the armband. ''The school district just would not acknowledge that the First Amendment applies to students,'' said Diana Philip, an ACLU regional director in Dallas. ''We had to take them to court before an agreement could be reached.'' Ray Vasvari, the Ohio ACLU's legal director, cited two ''invasions of student rights'' that were challenged successfully. In one, a Stow boy was suspended from classes for a personal Website entitled ''Stow High School Sucks.'' In another, a Youngstown area high school sought to administer drug tests for all students participating in extracurricular activities. ''The post-Columbine reaction is regrettable,'' Vasvari said. ''When rights are whittled away, they tend not to return.'' In Mississippi, the Harrison County School Board rescinded a policy that barred a Jewish boy from wearing his Star of David pendant after the ACLU sued on his behalf. School officials had considered it a gang symbol. Julie Underwood, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, says school districts are well-served by programs emphasizing ''culture and climate how people treat each other; whether a respectful learning environment exists. ''We routinely get called for advice after a problem arises, after some policy is challenged,'' she said. ''We would like to field such calls earlier on.'' Here are some questions and answers about students' rights: Q: Students are just kids. Why do they have any rights? A: Children, like adults, have legal rights. The Supreme Court, dating back to a landmark 1969 decision, has said students who attend public schools do not surrender all constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. For example, the court has said school officials cannot squelch students' freedom of speech based on ''a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.'' Q: What about students' privacy rights? A: The Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, applies in public schools, but school officials get more leeway than police. And school searches of lockers and backpacks, even the use of metal detectors, are much easier to justify when the target is illegal drugs or weapons. Still, courts generally require ''individualized suspicion'' in certain circumstances, barring school officials from searching all students in a room just because one of them may have stolen some money or smuggled in a pack of cigarettes. Q: What about drug tests? A: The law is still evolving on this issue. The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that student athletes could be subjected to random drug tests because the athletic programs are voluntary and student athletes are role models. Since then, some lower courts have allowed drug testing of students engaged in other extracurricular activities. But some courts have struck down drug-testing policies. In Oklahoma, two Pottawatomie County high school students are challenging a policy requiring drug tests for students involved in extracurricular activities, such as choir or marching band, for which they receive academic credit. No court anywhere has ruled that all students can be subjected to random drug tests. Q: Is there somewhere students and teachers nationwide can find out the answers to specific questions? A: No, the law on students' rights can vary from state to state, depending on state laws and court rulings. By Richard Carelli, Associated Press, 09/06/99 13:25 
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: