Uphold students' right to privacy


POSTED: Monday, April 27, 2009

The Hawaii State Board of Education's recent move to eviscerate the privacy rights of Hawaii's public school students demonstrates a clear lack of common sense and respect for the federal and state Constitutions.





        Our editorial on this issue, “;Isle students should not expect locker privacy,”; appeared April 21.



The board's plan to deploy drug-sniffing dogs throughout Hawaii's schools and to subject student lockers and personal effects “;to opening and inspection any time with or without reason or cause”; would have little bearing on student safety.

It would, however, deliver an abysmal civics lesson to our youth while diverting scarce resources that could be better spent on measures proven to advance the safety of our classrooms.

The well-being of Hawaii's students is of the utmost importance to everyone. With school budgets under constant strain, it is imperative that the board instead adopt policies that are effective rather than succumb to proposed measures which only offer a false sense of security.

School officials already have the power to carry out comprehensive searches based on reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. It makes far more sense to train educators to identify and aid wayward individuals than to impose Draconian surveillance measures upon the vast majority of law-abiding students in order to find the guilty few.

If students' well-being is truly the principal concern, schools would do far better to direct precious resources toward fact-based education about the dangers of drug and alcohol misuse, training for educators to identify students using illegal substances and counseling to students in need.

The board's plan also does a tremendous disservice to a student's civic maturity. Schools should instill students with admiration and respect for the rule of law—particularly of our fundamental rights—and provide, rather than undermine, the means necessary to become responsible adults in a free society. Abandoning the Constitution must not become a rite of passage for Hawaii's students.

The right to privacy is one of our most basic and sacred constitutional protections—codified by the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights and Article I of the Hawaii Constitution, which guarantee the right to be free from unsubstantiated government searches.

As the U.S. Supreme Court proclaimed over four decades ago, students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.

This sentiment was, until recently, shared by the Board of Education. Indeed, the Hawaii Administrative Rules governing student conduct state that “;[s]tudents have a legitimate expectation of privacy in school…[which] extends to their persons and personal effects as well as school property assigned for their individual use. School officials shall respect and uphold these privacy rights of students.”;

Sadly, the board now seeks to abandon these long-held principles and allow blanket searches “;with or without cause.”; Expanding these searches to include students' lockers and personal effects ventures into legally questionable waters and will needlessly expose schools to potential liability for violating students' rights.

The well-being of Hawaii's students is best served by upholding their fundamental rights, protecting students today and providing them with the skills to protect themselves in the future. The school board's plan fails on all accounts.


Lois K. Perrin is legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.