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Reactions of Education Community to Court's T.L.O. Decison

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Following is a sampling of reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on student searches in New Jersey v. T.L.O.


Joseph J. Scherer, associate executive director, American Association of School Administrators:

We welcome the Court's decision insofar as we don't believe teachers and administrators ought to be held to the same standards of reasonableness that police officers and court officials are held to.

On the other hand, I do not accept Justice Stevens' view that this is going to open a rash of warrantless searches. Students have a reasonable expectation that the contents of their locker or purse are private.

Walter J. Mlyniec, professor of law at Georgetown University, director of Georgetown's Juvenile Justice Center:

There are several dangers. There is a conceptual danger to the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court3was willing to carve out a dramatic exception to the amendment which has been a hallmark of personal freedom for 200 years.

With respect to children, there was no need to carve out that exception because the probable-cause standard used in the Fourth Amendment analysis was a good one for balancing the rights of the community and the individual.

On a more practical level, the opinion interposes the conception of reasonableness. In a U.S. Education Department survey we learned that 1 million children are subject to corporal punishment. There have been untold numbers of students injured under the reasonableness standard, which indicates that educators don't act all that reasonably.

Robert H. Chanin, general counsel for the National Education Association:

We welcome this decision. It affirms the right of school administrators and teachers to conduct reasonable searches of students and their properties. The decision will help guarantee a safe and orderly learning environment within our public schools.

School officials, teachers, parents, and students must now work together on the local level to develop workable guidelines that will fairly implement this court decision. Our challenge lies in balancing the constitutional rights of students with the need for ensuring a safe learning environment.

Arnold F. Fege, director of governmental relations, National PTA

There is a sensitive and ticklish balance of competing interests. On the one hand you have school boards asking for the necessary authority and latitude to assure orderliness; on the other hand you have parents saying that if districts interpret the decision too broadly, it may threaten the constitutional rights of students.

We also have competing interests of competing parents. Parents do not all speak with one voice. For those who are concerned with discipline and law and order, this may be just the thing they're looking for. Others will be concerned that search and seizure will be extended to violate constitutional rights. It's all going to be resolved at the local level.

Scott Widmeyer, director of public relations, American Federation of Teachers.

Teachers need a safeguard and backing if we're going to curb discipline and violence problems in school buildings. ...

[The decision] will send a message to students that there are rules and regulations to follow when you're a student in the school building; it will send a message to parents to remind their children; and it will tell parents who might have concerns about public schools that there is protection there for students, teachers, and administrators.

Ruth L. Zweifler, director of the Student Advocacy Center, a local advocacy group in Ann Arbor, Mich.:

It's a disaster. The Court said in the preface that students should maintain their constitutional right to privacy and then abolished it.

The assumption is that adults are always responsible, judicious, and have the best interest of children at heart. I don't think that we can count on that. They're human and the same kind of constraints imposed on police officers going at citizens ought to be imposed on anyone else.

The cases that we have here indicate to me that even without that decision that it is standard practice to have very little care about students' rights.

Richard Emory, staff counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union:

The decision is really a confirmation of the law as it presently exists in most states and is enforced in lower federal courts. It is neither an expansion or retraction of students' rights. As such, in some sense it can be considered a victory for students because their privacy rights in school were plainly recognized by the Supreme Court.

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