ACLU protests blanket student locker searches
It says a push to allow principals access with no cause is worrisome
The American Civil Liberties Union is protesting a state push to allow drug-sniffing dogs in public schools and let officials open students' lockers without establishing reasonable suspicion.
The state Department of Education argues that changes to the student discipline code known as Chapter 19 are needed to make campuses safer.
The revisions come as education officials are considering expanding a pilot program through which a drug-sniffing dog found marijuana and several liquor bottles at all three Maui public schools it visited this spring.
Members of a Board of Education committee debating the revisions to Chapter 19 agree the code needs to be updated with definitions like cyberbullying, forgery and hazing; and a prohibition of gadgets like laser pointers, iPods and DVD players, as well as gang paraphernalia, on school grounds.
The issue of locker searches has been more controversial.
"I think that if you are on a school campus, that it's not really your own personal property," said board Chairwoman Karen Knudsen. "But if the dog is specifically trained to be able to detect drugs, I don't see that that should be a problem if you don't have drugs."
But Laurie Temple, a Hawaii ACLU attorney, said giving principals access to students' lockers at any time without reason or cause is "unnecessary, potentially unconstitutional and opens the schools up to liability."
"There's just no rationale to allow for searches without a cause," she said. "Hawaii has a history, a tradition of upholding student privacy rights and individual privacy rights in general."
The Education Department has been working with the state Attorney General's Office for the past seven months to gather input from schools and reword Chapter 19, which has been untouched since 2001.
Officials with the Attorney General's Office have approved the new language, including the portion allowing for the locker searches, said Deputy Schools Superintendent Clayton Fujie.
It reads: "School lockers provided to the students on campus are subject to opening and inspection (and external dog sniffs) by school officials at any time with or without reason or cause."
If approved by the education board, the new code would still be subject to public hearings and Gov. Linda Lingle's signature.
Board member Garrett Toguchi said he understands privacy concerns, but that officials need to explore options to stop drugs from entering campuses.
"I agree that we have to, I guess, tread carefully, but the use of drugs in schools has continued to be a problem ... and doesn't seem to be getting any better," he said. "So we need to arm ourselves with different ways of reducing use of drugs on campus."