When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students return to area high schools on January 3, they will be greeted by new security protocols. CMS parents and guardians should not only hope that their children are safer now than they were before, they should also expect CMS to implement the new protocols in an effective and minimally intrusive manner that also does not employ racial profiling.
In the wake of the shooting of a student that occurred at Butler High School in Matthews on October 29, CMS reviewed its safety protections and, on November 16, announced new measures that include random wanding of students and searches of backpacks.
CMS Superintendent, Dr. Clayton Wilcox, stated at a media briefing, “We are taking action to keep weapons out of schools because we want all students to have safe, secure environments that promote academic growth. Our focus in schools should be on education.”
Back in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court held in New Jersey v. T.L.O. that school officials may search a student consistent with the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures “if the search is justified at its inception and is conducted in a manner reasonably related in scope to the circumstances.” That case involved a search of a student under circumstances in which the school had reasonable suspicion that the particular student was violating state law and school rules.
In the context of generalized searches, like random wanding and searches of backpacks recently begun by CMS, the school district will need to ensure that its actions are minimally intrusive and conducted in a manner that is consistent with a student’s low expectations of privacy, such as at school entrances. In addition, CMS will need to ensure that these new measures are not implemented in a manner that targets students based on race or other constitutionally-protected classes.
Jonathan A. Vogel, a former deputy general counsel with the U.S. Department of Education and a former federal prosecutor, is the managing attorney of Vogel Law Firm PLLC, an education law firm focused on legal issues that arise relating to K-12, higher education, and student loans.