Board OKs search policy

New rule governs conduct on school-sponsored trips

Parental notification included

Measure allows teachers to seize illegal items

Carroll County

July 29, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County school system's new search-and-seizure policy will require school officials to make "a reasonable attempt" to contact a parent after a student is searched on a school-sponsored trip.

"I'm not convinced I like the `after' thing, but I'm glad [the policy] includes parent notification," said board member Laura K. Rhodes, who joined other members in approving the policy yesterday.

At a board meeting two weeks ago, Rhodes asked for a parent-notification provision in the policy, which prompted school officials to rework it. At that time, she said she would prefer parents be notified before a search is conducted except in those cases where there is "clear and present danger."

Schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said yesterday that officials are considering ways to address the issue of notifying parents in advance, such as making the notification a standard part of the emergency record card that is sent home for parents to sign at the beginning of each school year.

The policy, which goes into effect immediately, is the result of a state law that authorizes school officials to designate a teacher to conduct student searches on school-sponsored field trips.

Previously, only principals, assistant principals and school security guards were allowed to conduct student searches and to seize illegal items. But because principals and guards rarely attend field trips, school officials needed a way to handle student searches away from school, said Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration.

Teachers, who would be designated by their principals, would undergo the same training as administrators on how and when to conduct searches.

The policy also requires that a student search be conducted "in the presence of an adult third party of the same gender as the student being searched."

Board member Susan Holt asked school officials to consider adding a recommendation that "when possible, the search shall be made by a person of the same gender."

Guthrie, who worked with an advisory committee in drafting the policy, said he would add that to the final version.

The person conducting the search will be the same gender as the student only when a "pat-down" search is needed, Guthrie said. Otherwise, he said, a teacher of the opposite gender can conduct the search.

Searches are to be conducted only when a teacher has "reasonable grounds to believe that the search will reveal" an illegal item, according to the policy.

The new state law allowing schools to designate teachers to conduct searches on field trips went into effect July 1. Since then, school officials have been evaluating their search policies.

In Howard County, school officials expect to make a recommendation to the board next month, said Martha Johnson, special assistant to Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.

"We need to give additional consideration on whether we could put something [together] ... for this school year and how that process will work," Johnson said.

Under Howard's student rights and responsibilities policy, principals, assistant principals and security guards are authorized to conduct student searches under certain circumstances.

In Baltimore County, only an administrator or a designated official can perform searches and seizures, said school system spokesman Charles A. Herndon. In practice, he said, that means a principal usually designates a teacher to perform the searches and makes sure that teacher has training before the field trip.

Herndon said the school system is studying the new law to see if it would affect the current practice.

Sun staff writers Hanah Cho and Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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