Sunday, May 24, 2009


Hawaii ACLU: “School are not prisons, and students shouldn’t be treated like inmates.”

by Larry Geller

(thanks to Viviane Lerner for a pointer to the ACLU web page and for the title)

The drug-sniffing dog is cute. It wins over school principals and teachers. Wouldn’t it be great to have this friendly little puppy keep our school safe from drugs?

Since there is no way to prove it works (kids aren’t dumb, if there were drugs in lockers in the first place, which has not been shown to be a problem, they would take them out and not get caught) (unless another kid plants some, of course). But these proposed rules have more problems than just the dog issue.

The Board of Education will vote on new rules at their meeting on Tuesday. Unless there is great public outcry, they’ll pass them. The cute dog (and the firm that employs it) will win, and students will lose.

The Hawaii chapter of the ACLU recommends sending in testimony to the Board and going down there in person on Tuesday. If you can, I hope you’ll do that. The ACLU web page is here.

Their suggested testimony actually explains the problem quite well. I hope they won’t mind if I reproduce it here. It’s better if you use your own words, of course, but this is good guidance and a great explanation of the concerns.


To:  Hawaii  State Board of Education
Via E-mail:
Date/Time: Tuesday, May 26, 2009, 3:00 p.m. Queen Liliuokalani  Building, Room 404
Re: Proposed Changes to Chapter 19

Dear Chair Toguchi and Members of the Hawaii State Board of Education:

I strongly oppose the proposed changes to Chapter 19 because they erode student privacy without making our schools any safer.

First, the list of “contraband” is overly broad.  The new rules would allow school officials to search every pocket of a student’s backpack, pants, or purse just because the student might have a cell phone.  Students with braces could be sent to detention because rubber bands are “contraband.”  Any student suspected of having chewing gum could be suspended.  School are not prisons, and students shouldn’t be treated like inmates.

Second, some of the proposed definitions are so vague that they will inevitably lead to claims of discrimination.  For example, the rules prohibit “inappropriate physical contact” – including consensual physical contact – between students.  But the rules don’t explain what conduct is “appropriate” or what is “inappropriate” and will vary from person to person.  School officials might believe that it’s “appropriate” for boys and girls to hold hands but “inappropriate” for two girls to do so.  Similarly, the rules prohibit “using words in an inappropriate way” and “low-intensity failure to respond to adult requests” – completely meaningless phrases that could have parents screaming at teachers if they enforce – or they fail to enforce – the rules.

Third, I strongly disagree that school officials should be able to search students’ lockers – and their personal property contained in the lockers – at any time, without cause.  The rule changes for locker searches are unnecessary (as well as unconstitutional):  current rules already allow for searches of students whenever there is reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.  The rules also allow for the immediate search of any locker if school officials believe there is imminent danger from the locker's contents. Therefore, as currently written, the rules in Chapter 19 already give school officials ample ability to keep our kids safe, while preserving their constitutional rights to privacy and free speech.

Fourth, I think that the use of drug-sniffing dogs is invasive, unnecessary, and a waste of scarce educational resources.  Even the best drug-sniffing dogs are wrong between 12.5% and 60% of the time. Large numbers of completely innocent students may be detained and questioned by school officials and even the police, creating an administrative nightmare without making schools any safer.

Fifth, the rules now authorize suspensions of up to 92 days and drug testing of kindergarteners.  This move towards “zero tolerance” in schools simply makes no sense:  children and teenagers will make mistakes; it’s the Board’s job to make sure that children get the tools they need to become productive, responsible members of society – not to give them criminal records and punish them with suspensions so lengthy that the students may never catch up to their peers.

We are teaching our children the wrong civics lesson.  The U.S. Constitution protects Americans from unsubstantiated searches, but allowing school officials to search through students' personal effects without cause is a glaring affront to this bedrock constitutional right and teaches a miserable civics lesson to our students.  By allowing suspicionless searches, we are mistakenly teaching young people that they must choose between being safe and free. Our constitution was built on the foundational idea that Americans can be safe AND free.

        These changes take our school system in the wrong direction.  Please do not implement these proposed changes.

If you’re concerned, please email your own testimony (the BOE email is given in the ACLU’s sample testimony).

Another reason to object: The ACLU is likely to win lawsuits against the state if schools start strip-searching kids or suspending them according to the new rules. I would bet on the ACLU winning. Which means that our tax money would go to pay needless legal fees.

We can avoid that by working to defeat these new rules before they are put into effect.


Thanks for this important post, Larry. I hope that youth organizations are getting this information.

Post a Comment

Requiring those Captcha codes at least temporarily, in the hopes that it quells the flood of comment spam I've been receiving.

<< Home


page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Newer›  ‹Older