The Legality of School Searches

A public school system has a number of duties it is expected to execute on a daily basis to help students achieve success in the classroom. But one duty is paramount among the rest, and is imperative to uphold so that students have the opportunity to study, and that is their general well-being and safety.

Schools have broad authority when it comes to banning weapons of any kind from school grounds and to enforce that ban. But what are the legal risks of school searches and what position do they put the school, the student, and the law in?

Weapons and Zero-Tolerance Policies

In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the Gun Free Schools Act, making it a federal crime to bring a gun into or around a school. However, the Supreme Court reversed the law because it was looked at as an overreach by the federal government. Congress pressed the Court, stating that removing weapons from schools affected interstate trade and commerce and fell within federal jurisdiction. But the Supreme Court continued on, deciding that guns and schools did not fall under interstate commerce.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the Gun Free Schools Act was amended and a portion of it was included in No Child Left Behind, which requires schools to take on a zero-tolerance stance against weapons in order to get funding from the federal government. Students who are discovered to have guns or weapons on campus are to be expelled under the law, and in states like Kansas and Florida, a student’s driver’s license can be revoked if they are found with a weapon.

School Authority and Searches

School officials have broad authority when it comes to searching students and their belongings whenever there is reasonable suspicion that the student(s) may possess a weapon of some kind.

Schools have a goal of keeping everyone on campus safe, even those who carry in weapons. However, the legal reach of a school can only go so far under the law. Schools cannot oversee and regulate what students do off-campus or in their free time. If a student can own a weapon, such as a gun, on a legal basis in their state, they are allowed to keep and use it when away from school without any authority given to the school.

Schools have more authority over student behavior than they do over the behavior of adults on campus, such as teachers and staff. States have their own laws and regulations when it comes to adults being able to bring weapons onto school grounds, such as resource officers or parents who are legally free to carry their own weapons.

Some states even allow teachers and administrators to carry concealed weapons with them into school because it is believed they will help protect themselves and their students from a campus shooter. On the other hand, there are states that have laws explicitly restricting guns on any campus.

Furthermore, zero-tolerance policies can be hard to not only approve legally but enforce. Some students may not fully understand that what they brought onto campus is a weapon or they may have brought a weapon on campus for other reasons besides something heinous or suspicious. If students are expelled or suspended due to something like this, parents and legal representatives can challenge the ruling and have the issue overturned, putting the school and its board in legal jeopardy of their own.

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