in the Classroom
say school-search bill may violate students’ consitutional
rights and force teachers to act as cops
a policy for searching students or lose federal funding. That’s
the ultimatum associated with the Student and Teacher Safety
Act, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives
on Sept. 19.
The legislation would require school boards to establish a
policy allowing full-time teachers and school officials, acting
on reasonable suspicion, to search any student they wish in
order to ensure that the school remains free from weapons,
drugs or other dangerous materials. Districts that fail to
enact the guidelines would become ineligible for federal funds
through the Safe and Drug Free School program, from which
New York state received more than $7 million in the 2006-07
Supporters of the Student and Teacher Safety Act argue that
the measure would increase safety in schools while alleviating
apprehension about liability for teachers and other school
officials. Opponents, although they echo the need to improve
safety, question the bill’s potential to violate students’
constitutional rights as well as the appropriateness of expanding
the role of educators.
In defining student searches, the Student and Teacher Act
fails to describe the scope of permissible searches, said
Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel for the American Civil
Liberties Union, which opposes the legislation because of
its broad language. This ambiguity leaves wiggle room for
school officials to construe the bill as allowing for random,
wide-scale searches of all students, even those for whom there
is no suspicion of wrongdoing.
we encourage school administrators to do is to have a reasonable
suspicion that an individual student or group of students
are participating in a violation of school rules or criminal
law and base their search on that,” McCurdy said, offering
an alternative to broad searching policies.
Absent such a clause limiting the scope of searches to those
students for whom there is individualized suspicion, the ACLU
has stated that the Student and Teacher Safety Act may not
stand up to constitutional scrutiny.
Students in public schools are protected by the Fourth Amendment,
which guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure,
the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1985. While affirming
students’ rights against unreasonable searches, the court’s
decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O. acknowledged that certain
limits on this right are legitimate because students are minors
and in the temporary custody of the state. Student searches,
therefore, can be conducted without a warrant and need only
be based on “probable cause.”
The text of the Student and Teacher Safety Act points to the
1985 decision as justification for the bill’s legitimacy.
However, that decision is silent on the question of the constitutionality
of conducting random searches without suspicion. In another
student-search case from 2002, the Supreme Court that ruled
random drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular
activities was reasonable but again did not clarify whether
schoolwide searches constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Even though the Supreme Court has not handed down a definitive
answer, ACLU representatives argue there’s enough evidence
to conclude that searches without individualized suspicion
infringe upon students’ Fourth Amendment rights. They point
to court decisions, including language from New Jersey v.
T.L.O., which indicate that exceptions to the requirement
of individualized suspicion are acceptable only when the privacy
interests at stake are minimal and protections are in place
to ensure the student’s privacy.
Individualized suspicion also is simply good public policy,
McCurdy and ACLU director Caroline Fredrickson wrote last
week in a letter to the House of Representatives urging opposition
to the bill.
Constitutional issues aside, the Student and Teacher Safety
Act is getting mixed reviews among education associations.
The largest teacher union, the National Education Association,
has expressed its support, while other teachers unions, including
the American Teachers Federation, have objected to the measure.
Many organizations critical of the legislation point to the
increased demand the legislation would put on teachers as
the primary source of their concern.
do not support putting teachers in that position,” said Richard
Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, the
state’s largest teachers union. “It’s a role that really requires
a well-trained expert, who understands both the interaction
with the students and understands the law and the rights of
Involving teachers in the bill would help keep drugs and violence
out of schools while affirming their control of the classroom,
said Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) in a press release from his
teacher’s role is as an educator, and the value of a good
teacher-student relationship is not going to be enhanced by
students viewing the teacher as a safety officer with respect
to something as significant as searches,” said Iannuzzi in
response to this argument. “Teachers should clearly be part
of making a parent and students feel that a school is a safe
place to be, but taking it to what I consider to be the extreme
by putting teachers in charge of searches would not be an
Instead, Iannuzzi proposed addressing the root social causes
that compromise school safety. The bill is little more than
a “diversion” from real issues, Iannuzzi suggested, churned
out by mid-election-cycle politicians.
Davis, for example, is in the midst of a fight to retain his
seat in Congress. Pollsters show a nearly dead-even competition
with his Democratic challenger.
Election-time politics also may have motivated members of
the House when they opted for a voice vote on the measure
as opposed to the standard roll-call vote, which enables constituents
to know how each representative voted.
look at it as something that’s going to make its mark prior
to the election process and is unlikely to follow the flow
after that,” Iannuzzi said of the chances this bill would
also pass the Senate and eventually become law.
The bill now moves to the Senate, which has referred it to
committee. The Senate did not have similar legislation on
the table prior to passage in the House.
Although it abides by case law from the Supreme Court and
the New York State Court of Appeals, New York’s Department
of Education has no state-mandated policy about student searches.
Local districts are free to develop their own policies as
long as they satisfy criteria established by the courts.
Properly Dispose of Corpse
Swedish company, Promessa Organic AB, has developed
a more ecologically friendly method for burying
the dead. The process, called ecological burial
or promession, aims to address cemetary plot shortages.
The method involves deep-freezing a corpse in
liquid nitrogen. What results is a brittle body
that can be broken down into a powder through
mechanical vibration. The remaining dust is dehydrated.
After the approximately two-hour process is complete,
the powdery remains are placed in a small, biodegradable
box and buried in a shallow grave. Within about
a year, the remains and burial box will have completely
decomposed. In 2004, Joenkoeping, a city in southwest
Sweden, announced it would become the first customer
of Promessa. The city's promession facility is
expected to be operational in 2007.
York comptroller Alan Hevesi has apologized for
the oversight. He says that he always intended
to reimburse the state for using one of his employees
as his wife's personal chauffer. The cost of this
service over four years? $82,688. The one-term
Democrat is up for re-election this November.
He used to lead his Republican challenger Christopher
Callaghan in the polls by a wide margin. Lately,
that margin has narrowed.
bloggers are in an uproar about Newsweek's
choice for this week's cover image. The magazine's
international editions, distributed throughout
Europe, Asia and Latin America, display the title
"Losing Afghanistan" and are accompanied by a
photograph of a Taliban fighter shouldering a
rocket-propelled grenade. In America, newsstands
stocked issues featuring a photo of photographer
Annie Leibovitz with several children for a story
titled "My Life in Pictures." The Afghanistan
article still appears in the issue, but under
a different headline.
Laden: Dead Again?
FBI's most wanted terrorist may also be nearing
a record for most reported deaths. The latest
was printed Saturday in a French newspaper, which
reported that Osama bin Laden died of typhoid
in Pakistan last month. Government officials were
quick to cast doubt upon the allegation. United
States and French officials were among those saying
they could not confirm the report.
the seniors: Gillibrand and McNulty pledge not to privatize
Action gets a commitment from Gillibrand and McNulty to oppose
privatization of Social Security
Kirsten Gillibrand stood with Con gressman Mike McNulty (D-Green
Island) on Monday and signed a pledge to publicly oppose President
Bush’s push to privatize Social Security.
Security is a compact between generations. It keeps seniors
out of poverty,” said Gillibrand. “If we didn’t have Social
Security, more than half of seniors would be in poverty. Social
Security saves lives, and it keeps families safe and happy.
We should come up with ideas that strengthen it, not weaken
signing was organized by Citizen Action, whose members say
that they have tried for two years to get a similar commitment
from incumbent John Sweeney (R-Clifton Park).
Action has been asking John Sweeney to take a position on
Social Security for almost two years, but Sweeney has refused
to tell his constituents where he stands,” said Citizen Action
member Al Ormsby.
According to Gillibrand, her stand was simply a matter of
common sense. “Putting Social Security at the risk of the
stock market,” she said, “is simply bad public policy.”
McNulty said that the future of Social Security is at stake
in the upcoming midterm elections. “President Bush and the
Republican House leadership have made it clear that if Republicans
control Congress, they’ll make Social Security privatization
a priority next year,” he said. “That’s why it is so important
that voters elect Kirsten Gillibrand—so that we can have a
majority in Congress that will reject the president’s dangerous
plan to privatize Social Security.”
Earlier this year, Bush said, “If we can’t get it done this
year, I’m going to try next year. And if we can’t get it done
next year, I’m going to try the year after that, because it
is the right thing to do.”
The event came to a close with a small group of pro-Sweeney
protestors shouting: “Release your taxes!,” referring to questions
raised by the Sweeney campaign about Gillibrand’s investment
history. They have accused Gillibrand of war profiteering
because of stock her husband owns in BAE, a British arms manufacturer.
Gillibrand claims her husband earned the stock while working
on the factory floor of the arms company when he was a young
Citizen Action members responded with chants of “Stop stealing
the money!” and “Sweeney’s afraid to debate!”
Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith (Ward 4) said she and a
number of other concerned parents and students waited outside
for hours on Sunday while Mayor Jerry Jennings and Police
Chief Tuffey met with school-board members on how to deal
with the violence that erupted at Albany High on Friday, which
included several fights and a stabbing.
many people, parents, members of community came to Academy
Park wanting to communicate to those in the meeting, and we
were refused,” Smith said. “It doesn’t work to say you are
including the community in solutions and then have meetings
behind closed doors.”
On Monday, Albany High students found themselves being herded
through metal detectors and checked for weapons (pictured:
Albany High School), a process that took hours and made a
number of students miss classes. Councilman Dominick Calsolaro
(Ward 1) insisted, “The city’s problems are not coming from
inside the schools. The city’s problems are reaching into
the schools.” Smith agreed: “There is misery here, and until
we are able to implement some responses to deal with the trauma,
the alienation that the kids are clearly communicating, we
are not going to be able to get anywhere. Metal detectors
don’t address underlying causes.”
loose ends this week-