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The Student News Site of Bellevue East High School

The Tom Tom

The Student News Site of Bellevue East High School

The Tom Tom

The Student News Site of Bellevue East High School

The Tom Tom

Laws govern how school authorities interact with students

Layla Hango
Ensuring safety. If given a reason, the school resource officer reserves the right to search a student’s belongings. As a safety precaution, SROs wear gloves when searching a student’s backpack. “So [for a] backpack search, if we have to do a backpack search, we have to have a few things. We have to have existent circumstances, probable cause, or we have to have reasonable articulable suspicion which we would request from the school administrator or teacher to search a backpack,” School Resource Officer Jonathan Hobbs said.

Students today are typically unaware of the rights that they are entitled to while they are on school grounds. With the rise in protests advocating for student rights in the past few decades, there has been a lot of confusion amongst the students themselves about what would be considered legal or illegal. 

People used to believe that schools had just as much of a right to do things like searching students as parents did. It was not until 1969 that the Supreme Court would make a decision in favor of student rights. The decision would be ruled 7-2. They declared that students should not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Bellevue Public School’s has a 54-page Student and Family Handbook with parts that outline the rights that students have. It also includes what administrative officials at school are allowed to do. 

According to the Student and Family handbook, students have the right to be “respected as an individual.” Students can receive benefits of all services a school has to offer, attend a school that is safe, and adequately equipped. Students are also allowed to express themselves as long as those ways are appropriate and do not cause disruptions to the school environment, and they are expected to comply with school regulations and staff. 

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However, a student who does not do the above is subjected to punishment. These decisions are made by school administration, and can range from things such as: detention, Saturday school if the student is in high school, in-school suspension, and out of school suspension. Getting expelled is also considered an option.

According to the Student and Family handbook, building administrators are in charge of orally communicating to the student their punishment, and the student “will be given the opportunity to react to the decision of the building administrator.”

School administrators are responsible for students and their safety. The BPS School Board believes that rules and regulations must be put in place to create functioning members of society, thus, the Superintendent of the district is in charge of establishing those rules and regulations as long as they are fair and follow the laws that are issued by the State of Nebraska and the United States.

According to the Student and Family handbook, regulations allow for “appropriate” corrective measures for misbehaviors. However, punishments that inflict bodily harm (corporal punishment) is not allowed. The only situation where a staff member can use reasonable physical force is “when it is necessary for self-defense, the protection of the student, or other persons.” In this case, “reasonable physical force” is considered to be force used only in situations that call for self-defense. This force cannot be cruel or cause too much bodily harm. 

If a student and/or parent believes that they have been wrongfully punished, Bellevue Public Schools does allow for an appeal process. The student and parent may appeal the decision of a school official through the school’s principal, appropriate central office administrator, the Superintendent of the district, or to the Board of Education.

According to the Student and Family handbook, the decision made by a building administrator is set to go into effect at once. A student and/or parent/guardian can appeal the decision as long as it is within the duration of 5 days after the time of the communication. However, if the duration of 5 days has passed, the decision is final and no appeal will be considered unless there is new information presented.

School administrators are also allowed to periodically search school property including student lockers and desks. The handbook states that officials also reserve the right to search an individual and their personal belongings/vehicles located on school property as long as the search is considered necessary to maintain order and safety. Nebraska legislature, specifically 79-262, states that school officials do indeed have the right to search and conduct other safety practices as long as those are confined to school grounds; they are not given authority to search things like vehicles off school grounds unless the vehicle is associated with the school. Search and seizure is where school officials search students to find some form of evidence that indicates a crime. 

“There are many reasons we may search a student and their belongings,” Dean Taylor Schultz said. “We will search a student if they are seen vaping, passing off a vape, smell of marijuana, or have a report of there being a safety concern, to name a few reasons.”

At school, a search would generally be considered legal if the school had reasonable suspicion that by doing the search, there would be evidence found that the student broke the rules and regulations. Sometimes, however, schools do not need this reasonable suspicion. For example, if there is a tip that relates to a possible genuinely dangerous threat; like if a student is said to have a weapon. Students are allowed to say no to a search.

According to lawyer E.A. Gjelbert, school officials technically are allowed to detain students to question them if there is “any kind of general suspicion.” However, the detention cannot be considered harassment or unreasonable.

According to the Bellevue East student handbook, when a search is conducted at East, a students’ person, or body/clothes and belongings often get searched together. Students are usually required to take off their shoes, give up their bag and all other belongings, turn their pockets inside out (or prove nothing is in there), reveal their waistband, and for female students, snap or shake their bra. According to students who have been searched, their parents are always called and made aware of the situation, but only after it happens.

To be able to search a student, under law, school staff is required to have “probable cause,” which is defined as reasonable grounds for making a search. There is something a little different called reasonable suspicion, which is less than probable cause.

Reasonable suspicion is almost like an inclination; a suspicion that there is evidence that can be found that would indicate a crime. This suspicion is based on facts, but that does not mean that there will be concrete evidence at the scene.

According to ACLU Nebraska, reasonable suspicion is “a suspicion of wrongdoing based on specific facts and not a mere hunch or a rumor.”

Probable cause, on the other hand, is when there are known, solid and concrete facts that warrant the punishment and/or apprehension of a suspected person. In other words, that it is likely that there will be illegal activity found. 

According to the ASCD, probable cause “exists when known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable prudence in the belief that contraband will be found.”

An example of reasonable suspicion would be tips from others students about illegal activity, smell of alcohol or drug, or even a bulge in a pocket that looks like contraband. These have all been upheld in court as legal reasons for search. According to the Nebraska legislature, searching a student with only reasonable suspicion, and no other evidence present, is not allowed. Probable cause is more like catching the student dealing drugs and searching them. That’s allowed and is more than reasonable grounds for a search.

“School administration needs reasonable cause to search. This means that if we have a report that there has been a violation of the code of conduct, we can pursue that lead and figure out what happened,” Schultz said.

In the handbook, reasonable grounds for a search is defined as reasonable cause. Not reasonable suspicion or probable cause. In the Nebraska legislature, reasonable cause is to believe that a misdemeanor has been committed. After a student is searched, they are usually free to go back to class. This is unless the deans or officers find anything on them. In some cases, students are punished even when nothing is found on them.

Some students have said they feel like they are not being heard. The newspaper is an outlet to give them their voice. They feel very strongly about the policy of search and seizure at Bellevue East. Some female students have expressed that the authority who has to search their bodies should always be a woman.

In terms of things like arrest, however, they do not fall into the responsibilities of school officials like deans. Those responsibilities fall into the hands of the police and the school resource officer.

“School administrators have no legal jurisdiction to make a physical arrest,” Bellevue East SRO Nathan Moore said. “I, as the SRO, am able to make arrests based on all Bellevue City Ordinances, Nebraska state laws, and Federal laws.”

If a student must be arrested, most of the time they will be issued a criminal arrest citation; this is a written notice that informs someone when and where their court meeting will be. Signing the citation means a student is promising to appear at court.

According to the ACLU Nebraska, usually police can question minors without having a parent or guardian present if the minor is under arrest. If they are not under arrest, they still have the right not to answer any of the questions an officer asks until their parent or guardian is there to represent them. The minors’ statement – without their guardian present – is also usually not to be used in court. If a student must be detained at a detention facility, the parent or guardian will be made aware, even if the student is 18 years or older.

As the responsibilities of arresting students fall into the SRO’s hands, it is important to know what the guidelines to an arrest are. More specifically, when officials can actually make an arrest.

“I will get involved as soon as a school member or I determine a criminal act has occurred,” Moore said.

As students are often unaware of what they can do, it is natural to question whether or not schools actually emphasize student rights enough. The simple answer to that is no.

According to John W. Whitehead from Huffpost, most Americans can be considered “constitutionally illiterate.” Even though millions of dollars are spent on the education system, schools typically tend to focus on subjects like math and science rather than lessons on basic freedoms in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

At the beginning of each year, students and their families are required to sign the student handbook. This is meant to be an acknowledgement of them understanding the handbook along with what is inside. 

“I think maybe students are taught about their rights, but either they don’t really pay attention or it doesn’t stick,” instructor Nora Boyd said. “Students don’t generally know what their rights are,” I think students should be taught about their rights multiple times. I don’t know if student rights are a part of curriculum for any classes, but I think they should be required and something that comes up repeatedly.”

Some students feel that East does not do a good enough job of thoroughly educating students on their rights at school.

“I think they should talk more about what to do and what not to do,” sophomore Ashlee Miller said.

Sophomore Trinity Marr has similar opinions as well. 

“If they don’t tell us [what to do and what not to do], we don’t know. The handbook doesn’t help us at all,” Marr said. “If they don’t tell us about our rights, it makes us feel less powerful as students. If they tell us that we have rights it feels like more of a fair fight.”

Most students spend more time at school than at home, so it is important for them to be aware of what they can do, and what teachers can do as well. 

“I think it is very important for students and staff to know the guidelines because it makes the school a safer place,” sophomore Lillian Herrick said.

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About the Contributors
Layla Hango, Opinion Editor
Hey I’m Layla and I’m the opinion editor for the Tom Tom! I feel like that’s a fitting role for me because I am a very opinionated person and I love reading and listening to everyone else’s opinions. I’m from California so I love the beach and miss living on the coast. Although I love journalism and writing for the newspaper, in the future I want to be a movie producer. I like to make and edit my own home movies with my siblings.
Brianna Yang, Features and Co-web Editor
Hi! I’m Brianna, I’m the features and one of the web editors for the Tom Tom! I’m an avid Kung Fu Panda fan (possibly minorly obsessive), and I love playing badminton, hiking, and playing guitar. I prefer the acoustic guitar 100%.

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