Last fall, Plano Independent School District began subjecting students at all secondary campuses to random searches via metal-detecting wands and personal inspections. Students selected for these suspicionless searches will be held in violation of the PISD Student Code of Conduct if they refuse to cooperate.
According to the official policy, examples of random searches include (but are not limited to) all students at a certain location, students using predetermined doors, and all students on buses selected at random intervals. Students chosen for search will be required to remove metallic items from their person, stand in an organized line, and allow a district safety officer to examine them with a metal-detecting wand. Backpacks, purses, and other bags will also be inspected.
Searches may occur at any time or place on district property. Students who refuse to comply with the directives of a safety officer will be removed from campus and subjected to disciplinary action — including suspension or expulsion. Additionally, PISD policy contends that “students have no claim to the right not to incriminate themselves.”
The declared purpose of the district’s new search protocol is to “prevent and deter students from bringing weapons to school” as prohibited by law, but it certainly calls into question the due process rights of minors and students in public schools. Can minors be denied legal protection from arbitrary searches when adults cannot? Can 18-year-old high school seniors — legal adults — lose their protections in a public school setting?
PISD and other school districts might argue that they are authorized to establish their own security procedures under the Texas Education Code. The “school discipline” section of the code, however, provides only for emergency restraint or removal of students reasonably believed to possess prohibited items until law enforcement arrives to handle the situation. Thus, the use of randomized searches essentially allows a school district to skirt around probable cause.
Because PISD’s suspicionless searches are designed specifically for the purposes of law enforcement, and because they will be carried out in the presence of peace officers, they inherently involve legal repercussions for students. If a student being searched is found to actually possess a prohibited item, he or she will be arrested. And if a student is insubordinate and spiteful of the stringent consequences for evading searches, disciplinary action can escalate to truancy — a crime that can involve jail time for 18-year-olds.
These legal concerns have broader implications than just school. Throughout the State of Texas, private security at sporting stadiums (including those at high school and college campuses) use metal-detection wands to screen visitors, but police officers are almost always present. In a sense, private security is carrying out unwarranted searches for the police, who would otherwise have to abide by more stringent due process requirements.
Meanwhile, the parents and students of Plano should not consider arbitrary searches as sound policy. If the mission of Plano ISD is truly to “empower students … to be disciplined and creative in their thinking,” then why does the district teach them that they must submit to having their bodies and personal effects ransacked at the whim of those entrusted with power?
Minors and students often do not have a voice for themselves, but parents do. The parents of Plano should demand that the PISD Board of Trustees reverse its new search policy and protect the rights of students and other citizens.
Residents of Plano can take action here.