Searches: the reasons and legalities

Foremost in everyone’s mind, when we think about our children, is keeping them safe and healthy.  This is also the case when we send them off to school.  Parents, school officials and faculty are all concerned with making sure our schools have a safe, non-threatening environment that is a good place to learn.

One of the ways we try to ensure this environment is by the use of K-9 searches on school property.  I realize there is a lot of controversy by some groups as to the use of dogs in the schools, but I believe that the need to try to prevent drugs from being in our schools far outweighs those concerns.  The courts also agree with that stance.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a sniff by a narcotics-trained dog does not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment.  This has specifically included incidents of locker and vehicle searches on school property in cases argued before a number of Circuit Courts.  The legality set down by the courts is pretty clear.  K-9 searches can be done and a search of a vehicle or locker which has been hit on by a trained police dog can be done. 

That being said, in the Fargo Public Schools we do utilize K-9 units for searches of both the parking lots (vehicles) and locker areas of our high schools and middle schools.  Our goal in doing them is not to catch some unsuspecting student with a little weed – nothing makes us happier than not finding anything.  Our goal by doing these searches is to discourage anyone from bringing drugs into the building or onto the property.  It is for this reason that we do not notify students in advance of a search.  The searches are random so students learn that it is never safe to bring drugs to school because we could do a search at any time.  We usually utilize some form of a lockdown in which teachers continue to teach but students cannot leave the classroom.  This eliminates people from getting in the way or potentially removing something they brought with them and disposing of it.  There is usually only a minor disruption to the day.  Anyone, student or otherwise, found with drugs is prosecuted.  Students also have associated school sanctions that can range from suspension to expulsion.

Our main priority is the safety of the students.  Drugs and their associated problems significantly undermine our ability to maintain a safe environment.   We will continue to do everything in our power to give our students a place that they can feel secure and enjoy going to every day.

(Kim Claus is the School Resource Officer at Discovery Middle School. She can be reached at clausk@fargo.k12.nd.us.)

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