J. Bates McIntyre, who graduated last spring from the University of Illinois law school, makes her case in the article "Empowering Schools to Search: The Effect of Growing Drug and Violence Concerns on American Schools," published in a recent issue of the university's Law Review.
She clerks for a federal judge in Chicago.
In a phone interview from the Windy City Wednesday, McIntyre expressed sympathy for "the real concerns" that face school authorities, but she said, "There's not a fit between the solutions and the problem."
She wondered whether school districts, teachers and principals were more afraid of lawsuits than concerned about student safety.
In her article, McIntyre questions the rationale used by school administrators and state legislators for such measures as surveillance cameras, search dogs and limiting access to school property, even bathrooms. Despite well-publicized school shootings, students are correct in their perception that school violence is down, she wrote.
In fact, some school authorities, emboldened by state laws intended to "send a message," are applying drastic measures to threats they know do not exist. For example, after dogs were brought in to sniff students' lockers and parked automobiles in a Seattle-area high school, the principal admitted that the decision to conduct the search wasn't prompted by a drug problem.
"We have students who use and abuse drugs," he told the Seattle Times, "but we didn't base this program on any type of emergency."
McIntyre found this particularly troubling because courts have ruled in favor of schools' abridgement of students' privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment precisely because of administrators' claims of crisis conditions.
Judicial tolerance of school searches cannot be sustained if all students are seen as suspects regardless of their actions, she wrote.
"What message can students glean from searches when school administrators confess they are trying to scare students?" she asked. McIntyre argued that heavy-handed search policies backed by overbroad state laws foster student cynicism and distrust for authority.
Instead of fostering an environment more conducive to learning, such policies have a chilling effect on education, McIntyre wrote. She suggested that school administrators' time would better be spent maintaining educational programs that discourage drug use and violent behavior "rather than shadowboxing against problems that may not exist."
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