Security key for schools, but rules shouldn't waive privacy
The Board of Education is reviewing new rules for public school student conduct.
A REVISION of rules governing student conduct
in public schools responds to a perception that security risks on campuses have heightened, much as they have in the larger community.
As incidents of school violence have increased, so have the concerns of parents and education officials for the safety of children and adults.
Proposals the state Board of Education are considering aren't out of line with current trends, but members must be careful not to create an atmosphere weighed down by anxiety about the possibilities for harm, which no number of safety measures can control.
Parents should be involved in the process of reworking the rules, which the board will be discussing through the next few months with the goal of setting them in place by year's end. Gov. Linda Lingle also will have to sign off on the new code because it is tied to state statutes.
The proposals cover student misconduct, disciplinary procedures, changes in search and seizure provisions, reporting of offenses and police involvement, and restitution for vandalism. They also address use of new technological devices, such as iPods, cellphones, text messaging gear and computers, and the problems connected with them, such as hacking on school equipment.
Behavioral issues, like sexual encounters, hazing, harassment and the new-tech offense of cyberbullying, are dealt with in the new rules. For the first time, harassment includes gender identity and expression as a factor, a point that could be controversial.
One measure sure to draw privacy concerns would allow school officials to search students' lockers at any time "with or without reason or cause." It runs counter to current rules, and to those applied to a pilot program the board is considering expanding in which trained, drug- detecting dogs sniff common areas, like gyms and cafeterias, but are barred from checking lockers, bags and students.
At present, officials are permitted to search students' personal items, such as backpacks, shoes, jackets and other outer clothing if they suspect they are hiding contraband and there is an imminent safety problem, and though the new rules would not allow random searches, the proposals narrow the line of students' privacy rights.
The rules provide adequate parent notification measures, but parents should take a close look at them and let board members know if they feel otherwise.
The proposals are aimed at providing students with a safe environment for learning, but also require them to bear some responsibility. That, too, is an educational experience.