District 214 Tries to Balance Student Safety and Searches

By Galloro, Vince | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 2, 1999 | Go to article overview

District 214 Tries to Balance Student Safety and Searches


Galloro, Vince, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Vince Galloro Daily Herald Staff Writer

Crafting a policy on searches of high school students and their property is a balancing exercise.

The rights of the students as individuals can conflict sharply with their collective right to be safe in school.

Finding the balance is the challenge right now for Northwest Suburban High School District 214.

Administrators, responding to highly publicized school shootings in Arkansas, Kentucky and Oregon, worked for months on a "search-and-seizure" policy.

But school board members panned it.

The initial proposal, they said, would give too much power to employees to search not only students, but also visitors.

It gave that power, too, not just to top administrators, but to all district employees.

"I couldn't support a policy on searches and seizures that was that broad," board member John Ratliff said. "It just really didn't give any guidance to anybody."

Board member Gary Newland said, "A child also needs to be protected from officials who may abuse their power."

The initial proposal would have been a bold application of Illinois law that empowers school officials to search lockers, cars or other student property on school grounds. The law also places few restrictions on school officials searching students, including allowing strip-searches.

But most policies adopted by other area high schools apply to students only. In the case of suspicious adults in the schools, educators usually call police.

And, unlike the District 214 proposal, most area high schools limit which officials can conduct searches, usually to deans and other administrators.

"We want students to be treated fairly," Ratliff said. "At the same time, we need to have ... control over what goes on in school to be able to protect students and staff."

The proposal would have authorized any employee to search a student's belongings or the student, given a "reasonable suspicion" they possess an illegal item or are violating school rules.

Assistant Superintendent Thomas L. Hansen says admin-istrators are back to the research stage.

But he's convinced school officials need powerful tools to deal with violence, especially in the wake of the recent fatal shooting at a privately run alternative school in Elgin. …

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