In their first meeting since the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the Volusia County School Board grappled with human rights and child safety.
The case arose during a series of policy updates, spurred by an August 2021 settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice.
The agreement came after the Justice Department found that allegations that Volusia County students with disabilities were improperly disciplined and excluded from school programs and services were founded.
Most of the 12 policy updates were directly related to negotiations with the DOJ and adjusted language clarifying the rights of students with disabilities in various areas.
One change, however, was at the request of school resource officers, who wanted new wording included regarding bag searches of visitors on campus.
“All visitors to Volusia County School sites or events are cautioned that searches may be conducted randomly and without cause by the site administrator. Additionally, the use of an electronic device may be used to assist in research,” reads a draft of the policy.
As has become common, school board meetings can become a major battleground for adults’ personal freedom.
“Not only do these amendments include random searches of students, but they also include an extra layer of tyranny with the addition of random searches for no reason for everyone,” said Jennifer Kelly of the group Moms for Liberty.
Although there is already wording that says all bags are subject to search, the added wording has caused concern for some council members.
“I don’t know if I want to put the administrators of our site in the position of looking for a visitor, especially without a reason,” said school board president Ruben Colón. “That we would say we’re just going to do random searches for no reason – I have a problem with that.”
The issue consumed the majority of a two-and-a-half-hour workshop on policy changes, and another hour at the regular meeting scheduled for June 14.
For school board member Jamie Haynes, the inclusion of “random” and “no reason” was concerning because they could be used to unfairly target individuals.
“It’s either we’re going to check everyone and everyone will be treated the same as me, or there has to be in my mind that there has to be a reason why you’re bullying that person,” Haynes said. said.
School safety was top of mind for school board member Linda Cuthbert.
“The worst thing that can happen to us is to look back and say we should have. I don’t want any of our kids to have to cower inside classrooms,” Cuthbert said.
“I think I heard someone say… ‘That’s not how we’ve done it in the past’ – well, have we had broke kids in the past?” asked school board attorney Ted Doran. ” Hopefully not. Do we have kids broke with AR-15s now, like we do? »
“I understand the sensitivity to that, but you know, it’s a balancing act,” Doran continued. “On the one hand you have children – children who are killed, murdered, massacred, can’t even be identified after someone walks into a room and literally tears them to pieces – against any adult who comes on our campus as a visitor in any way, shape or form and whatever rights they have.
Case law allows schools to set their own search policies, school district attorneys said, and just because random searches might occur doesn’t mean they would.
“How do you consider the safety of children and compare it to the rights or privacy of adults who choose to come to our campuses? Doran asked. “When it comes down to chance, if the law allows it, why not have the latitude?”
At the time of the regular meeting, the wording had been updated to “All persons entering Volusia County schools, sites or events may be searched in accordance with established procedures.”
But then, what did “in accordance with established procedures” mean?
For lawyers and board members Cuthbert and Carl Persis, the schools already have the power and are already looking for the bags when needed. The additional wording would simply provide additional protections, but whether new types of searches would actually occur would be a question for administrators.
“It’s something we’ve been doing for a long time, as far as I can remember. I remember those signs, ‘Subject to research,’” school board member Cuthbert said. “It’s a policy that gives us the power to do so if necessary – the how and why is up to the superintendent and her administrative team.”
“I think it’s bad practice not to know what the procedure is if you’re adopting a policy,” said board member Anita Burnette.
“There was a conversation about ‘Well, that’s what we do anyway,'” said Elizabeth Albert, president of Volusia United Educators. “There are many elements in the student code of conduct, both elementary and secondary, that are black and white before us in this policy, and it is not being executed.”
“Do we need to add more now, or do we need to get this part right?” Albert added.
Finally, after the dust settled, the proposed changes to the search policy were dropped and a full list of prohibited items was added. The issue may be revisited after the focus groups have been held and the School Resource Officer is able to brief the board.
The other 11 policy changes — nearly three years in the making (since Volusia County began reviewing policy provisions for students with disabilities) — passed with little discussion.