The Rural Patriot

October 2, 2006

The Possible National Child Strip-Search Bill

Filed under: Congressional Votes,Federal Government,Randy Kuhl — theruralpatriot @ 10:08 pm

Well, knock me over with a feather.

This is what happens when you are just surfing the net and post from a press release without actually looking into the details of the subject matter. My own post from 9/20/06, “Kuhl Announcements on School Safety and Chemung County”, contained a huge issue that I had inadvertantly overlooked. And, dear readers, I sincerely apologize for my lack of oversite. It’s not going to happen again if I can help it.  (All bolding emphasis throughout this post are mine.)

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sep 19 – U.S. Rep. John R. “Randy” Kuhl, Jr. (R-Hammondsport), a member of the House Education and The Workforce Committee, today managed floor debate in favor of H.R. 5295, the Student and Teacher Safety Act. Rep. Kuhl and two other Members of Congress are coauthors of the bill, which passed the House today.

It wasn’t until today that I learned just what H.R. 5295 is all about.

A bill approved by the U.S. House (yesterday) would require school districts around the country to establish policies making it easier for teachers and school officials to conduct wide scale searches of students. These searches could take the form of pat-downs, bag searches, or strip searches depending on how administrators interpret the law.

Even though student molestations seem to be reaching epidemic proportions in schools across America, the House of Representatives has approved a tough new anti-drug and anti-weapon law that would require local districts to develop search policies – including strip searches – with immunity against prosecution for teachers and staff.
(snip)
The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the National Parent Teacher Association, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association all opposed the bill saying it could invite unconstitutional searches. The National Education Association supports the legislation, according to the sponsor.
(snip)
The bill does not address whether body cavity searches are included, whether training will be provided to staffers performing them, whether background checks on staffers would be necessary, whether students who have been sexually abused in the past would be subject or whether parental notification would be required. Without those specifics, the judgment of local school administrators will be the litmus test.

Huh? What? Are you kidding me? How did this happen?

House leaders circumvented the usual legislative procedure to bring the bill to a quick vote. It did not pass through the committee process, but went straight to the House floor.

The “Student Teacher Safety Act of 2006” passed on a voice vote, bypassing the committee process and with no way to hold individual members of the House accountable for their votes.

It has since been referred to Senate committee. The status is that it is “received in the Senate and read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions”. Text from the bill sounds innocent and helpful:

SEC. 3. (b) Searches Covered- A search referred to in subsection (a) is a search by a full-time teacher or school official, acting on any reasonable suspicion based on professional experience and judgment, of any minor student on the grounds of any public school, if the search is conducted to ensure that classrooms, school buildings, school property and students remain free from the threat of all weapons, dangerous materials, or illegal narcotics. The measures used to conduct any search must be reasonably related to the search’s objectives, without being excessively intrusive in light of the student’s age, sex, and the nature of the offense.

What you are not being told here is the definition of “reasonable suspicion”, “reasonably related”, and “any minor student” can just as easily be said “any and every minor student”. If someone in an authority position wants the whole student body searched, it will be perfectly legal with no repercussions.

Do you have a disciplined child who doesn’t get into trouble, does well in school, and is trustworthy? Someone who may make mistakes, but never of the caliber described in SEC. 3.(b) above? Well, I’m sorry, he or she is just as eligible to be strip-searched as the child who does fit into this category.

Searching students without individualized suspicion that they have done something wrong fosters mistrust between adolescents and the adults they should feel comfortable turning to when they do have substance abuse problems. Treating groups of students as if they’re guilty until proven innocent sends them the wrong message about what it means to be American citizens, and makes them less likely to seek help and guidance when they need it.

And, any school refusing to conform to this law would loose federal funding:

The Student Teacher Safety Act of 2006 (HR 5295) would require any school receiving federal funding–essentially every public school–to adopt policies allowing teachers and school officials to conduct random, warrantless searches of every student, at any time, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Saying they suspect that one student might have drugs could give officials the authority to search every student in the building.

Would someone like to tell me what’s so good about this bill? Stop and think about this for a minute – DO YOU WANT YOUR CHILD OR GRANDCHILD going through a strip search because a teacher, principal, or other adult figure in a school setting has suspected that maybe someone in their building MIGHT have drugs?

California Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House committee that oversees education issues, called the legislation an intrusion into local affairs.

“Schools and school districts already have policies in place regarding student searches,” Miller said. “Those policies are the product of consultation with local administrators, teachers and parents. They take in the concerns of the community.”

And so much for state and local laws…

The proposed legislation, which would esentially require school districts to establish search policies that reiterate the standards set forth by the Supreme Court in T.L.O., raises a variety of legal issues. First, because the T.L.O. reasonableness standard applies to a wide array of searches conducted by school officials, the legal requirements imposed by the bill already apply regardless of whether or not the school district has a policy to that effect. [T.L.O. – Supreme Court; New Jersey vs. T.L.O. – 469 U.S. 325 (1985)]

In addition, it is important to note that it is the courts, not Congress, that have the authority to interpret and establish constitutional requirements in general and Fourth Amendment search standards in particular. It is also up to the courts to determine the reasonableness of a given search. Even if a federal law were passed requiring school districts to establish policies declaring certain searches by school officials to be reasonable and permissible, there is no assurance that the courts would uphold searches conducted pursuant to such policies. In other words, just because a school district has such a policy in place does not mean that a court would deem a particular search to be reasonable under the circumstances of a given case, nor does it mean that a court would otherwise pay any heed to the school’s search policy. Thus, the requirements imposed by H.R. 5295 would be unlikely to offer much legal protection to school officials who conduct searches of students.

Moreover the proposed bill fails to take into account any additional legal standards that may have been imposed by state courts. …

Furthermore, the proposed legislation would impose a uniform reasonableness standard even though such a standard might not currently be required for some types of searches that take place in certain jurisdictions. …

In addition to considerations of constitutional jurisprudence, any federal legislation requiring school districts to establish a uniform school search policy would also have implications for federalism, i.e., the relationship between the federal government and the states and the relative autonomy of each. Traditionally, education, public health and safety, and law enforcement have all been issues that are primarily governed by state and local law, largely because of the local nature of these issues. Enacting federal legislation with respect to school-based searches could therefore interfere with state and local law in areas of traditional and local responsibility.

Again, even though this has passed the House, it has not come to a vote in the Senate. If you think that this bill should not pass, call Senators Clinton and Schumer and voice your concern. I’ll even go one further. If you, for some reason, think that there is nothing wrong with this bill, call both of them and go on the record voicing your support. And if you do support this, I really want you to leave a comment explaining why you think that this is OK. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this – tell me what I am missing here and why you agree with Congressman Kuhl that this is a fine piece of legislation.

In a prior post today, I urged you to not place your vote this November based solely on “local issues”. This post here is a fine example of what I am talking about, and this one almost slipped under the radar, even for me. Again, you may believe that all politics are local, but your vote does have national significance.

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