Schools panel OKs locker-search plan
Dismissing privacy concerns, the state Board of Education is advancing proposals to let school administrators search students' lockers for drugs and contraband whenever they want and allow drug-sniffing dogs on campuses.
In a 7-4 vote, the board's Special Programs Committee adopted locker inspections "with or without reason or cause" yesterday as part of sweeping revisions to the student misconduct code. It also calls for expanding a pilot program in which a dog found drugs at all three Maui public schools it visited this spring.
Members sent the rule changes to the full board for final approval despite hearing from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and a University of Hawaii sociologist -- all of whom raised concerns over the effectiveness and legality of the measures.
"It is an untested, unscientifically sound program," associate sociology professor Katherine Irwin said of the unannounced canine visits.
Whitney White, owner of Interquest Detection Canines of Hawaii, said courts have ruled that dog sniffing of lockers, cars, bags and restrooms searches would not violate students' privacy. The presence of dogs on campuses, she argues, gives students "a reason to say no" to drugs.
"The alert by the certified canine does provide the 'reasonable suspicion' to conduct an inspection," she wrote in testimony.
Board members also heard from Valerie Sonoda, president of the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association, who said new programs are critical to combat drug use and exposure at schools.
At a recent PTSA meeting in Nanakuli, Sonoda said there was a presentation on how drug dealers are targeting schoolchildren with colored crystal methamphetamine. She noted the timing to launch new guidelines is right, with teachers signing a new two-year contract that includes drug testing.
"We support any type of action or initiative that will deter the whole notion of having drugs on campus," she said.
Jonathan Allen, student board member from Kapolei High School, said students seemed supportive of the dog program and locker searches during a recent school meeting.
But board member Garret Toguchi worried the new language could give administrators a free pass to harass misbehaving students by threatening to open their lockers daily since they would not need a reason to search.
"The idea of 'without cause,' I'm not comfortable with that," said member Karen Knudsen. "It just wouldn't sit well with me."
Privacy concerns led board members at their last meeting to delete the clause that would allow for locker searches without suspicion. But they reinserted that reference yesterday after meeting in executive session with the attorney general's office.
"It raised all these red flags ... but I think for us, we need to take the emotions out of it and just look at it objectively," said board member Breene Harimoto, who backed the revisions.
A full board meeting to discuss the updated student code has yet to be scheduled. If approved, the changes would need to be debated in public hearings and receive Gov. Linda Lingle's signature before taking effect.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona said he believes the school board is carefully weighing the legal implications of the changes with its envisioned benefits. The Lingle administration would support the board's recommendation, he said.