Open school doors to privacy debate
A state school board committee plans to meet behind closed doors to be briefed by the attorney general on student privacy issues.
SCHOOL board members are considering rule changes to allow searches of students' lockers
, but they are cloaking their own process in secrecy
in arriving at their decision.
State boards have reasons to meet with the attorney general on sensitive matters, but discussion of widely known issues of privacy and students' rights is not among them. The door should be open.
School officials on Maui have successfully used a golden retriever to sniff out drugs and alcohol at two schools since February under a pilot search program. A Board of Education committee is considering allowing such searches on a permanent basis, as well as addressing issues such as cyberbullying, forgery and hazing, and prohibiting some high-technology gadgets.
Mary Cochran, the committee's chairwoman, said Attorney General Mark Bennett has recommended that the meeting be held in private. Les Kondo, director of the state Office of Information Practices, points out that the school board could be exposed to a lawsuit if Bennett warns that a proposed change would be unconstitutional and the board decides to adopt it anyway.
Such a risk is small. Interquest Detection Canines, which is conducting the pilot program, has search dogs in 1,200 school districts. Canine searches are nonintrusive because students have no expectation of privacy in the air that dogs sniff around them or their lockers. The expectation of privacy in lockers, which are school property, is low.
Off-campus, law-enforcement officials must have "probable cause" that a crime has been committed in order to obtain a warrant and conduct a search. On school property, officials need only "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity to launch a search without need for a warrant.
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