Our conference Q&A session was a big hit, but not all of the questions could be answered. Let’s take a look at a few. . .
Q: What options do we have when a student refuses to be searched when you have suspicion?
A: Searches by public school officials are governed by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits all unreasonable searches and seizures by State officers. The Supreme Court has held that “reasonableness” of a search is determined by balancing the governmental interest at stake against the privacy intrusion of the search. While students have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their persons and possessions, schools have a substantial interest in maintaining security and order. So, while law enforcement officers might need probable cause and a warrant to conduct a search, school officials need only a “reasonable suspicion” that the search will turn up evidence that the student broke the law or the rules of the school. Be cautioned, however, that even with reasonable suspicion, the scope of the search must be limited to purpose of the search and cannot be excessively intrusive in light of the age and gender of the student. When a student refuses, you are still allowed to conduct the search as long as the scope of the search is reasonable and limited to the purposes of the search. So, if there is a reasonable suspicion of weapons or a threat of harm, a compelled search would be more justified than a lesser school offense. Keep in mind, however, a school official who uses force, or even excessive coercion without force, to conduct a search can be sued personally for a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Using force against a student to conduct a search when it is not justified can certainly land you in court and possibly subject you to civil liability. The United States Supreme Court addressed these issues most recently in the case Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding, in which the Court found a violation of the Fourth Amendment when school officials conducted an overly intrusive search of a 13-year-old, middle school student.
Q: Have they specified if a campus can have more than one campus behavior coordinator?
A: Senate Bill 107, in effect at the start of this school year, requires that each campus designate a campus behavior coordinator (CBC). The new Texas Education Code § 37.0012(a) states: “A person at each campus must be designated to serve as the campus behavior coordinator.” A literal reading of this language would suggest that only one person can be designated as the campus behavior coordinator at each campus. Section 37.0012(a) provides further that the person designated may be the principal of the campus or any other campus administrator selected by the principal. This may be designed to create consistency in discipline at the campus level, but there is no doubt that Senate Bill 107 imposes heavy administrative burdens on the CBC. Whether the CBC may delegate some of the administrative duties required by Senate Bill 107 remains to be seen. Read the full text of Senate Bill 107.