Washington State Supreme Court case: What is a Lawful Search by a School Resource Officer?

What is the role of School Resource Officers (SROs) is at the heart of this case.  SRO are generally full commissioned uniformed officers of the law, as in this case.  At the heart of this case is the discussion of what rights students have regarding searches as well as clarity on the difference between school administrators and SROs.  Both Federal and State law protects persons from “unlawful searches and seizes;” his means a government actor needs a warrant supported by probable cause to conduct a search unless an exception applies. The school search exception to the warrant requirement is well established under both Washington and federal law. The two thresholds in this case for conducting a search are “reasonable suspicion” (school exception) and “probable cause.”  “Reasonable suspicion” is a lower burden of proof, the full definition is something like “there is reasonable suspicion that something has happened.”  While on the other hand “probable cause” is more stringent and is “that a reasonable and prudent person (officer) believes that a crime has been committed.” The current ruling and searches regarding school administrators determined that they have a lower burden of suspicion in order to conduct a search.  The question that arises from this case is “what role is the officer in?”  Is he a administrator or is he a police officer?

He is… a Police Officer and there for always held to the higher standard when arresting or searching suspects.  (according to this ruling)

I don’t want to discuss the details of this case, as no one is suggesting that what the student did was ok.  Possessing marijuana and carrying a BB gun on to school grounds is a SERIOUS offense.  But the ramifications of this case does set out to limit or change and hopefully clarify the role of SROs.  Throughout the nineties and into this the new century SRO have had a growing presence.  This presence has not always been a constructive one.  I don’t believe that police officers are bad people; I also don’t believe that ticketing and arresting students for misbehavior is an effective or health approach to school discipline.  The criminalization of school misbehavior has disenfranchised youth across this state and the nation.

The Texas Apple Seed Project reported that SROs in Texas wrote nearly 300,000 tickets to youth in school in one year!

Our problem is not as severe as that, but it still needs attention.  Looking forward I would recommend the reduction of police officers in schools entirely.  There needs to be a better way of dealing with harm in the communities and our schools.  The question becomes how do we engage youth in our schools and communities?  Instead of pushing our youth away from school, instead of pushing the into the streets, through these isolating and exclusionary policies we need new models of engaging youth.

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About rjfacilitator

My experience, education, and passion have met in alternative discipline. Through my policy work and my mediation experience I have worked and studied the dynamic components of discipline in many settings. While Restorative Justice is not the only way to approach conflict in communities, it has provided me an effective model in which to examine and engage in conflict. We provide custom programs for schools, colleges, and youth serving agencies seeking to engage with conflict using healthy and sustainable tools.
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