Linden schools to restart student searches

Photo by Brian Trusdell
An unoccupied security vehicle sits in front of Linden High School on West St. Georges Avenue on Monday, Jan. 20. School was out of session due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but the district has announced it was to restart a policy of random student searches in January.

LINDEN, N.J. — Random searches of students at Soehl and McManus middle schools and Linden High School were to begin later this month, officials said, reinstituting a policy that was first introduced a decade ago.

“Our renewed use of random searches is part of an overall effort to boost security, which includes our special law enforcement officer class III security officers, security vestibules at the entrance to every school, tighter entry, protocols and other behind-the-scenes moves,” district spokesman Gary Miller said in a Jan. 14 emailed statement. “Security is always one of our top concerns, and we will continue to be proactive and transparent in looking at any program that can help keep our staff and students safe.”

The policy, otherwise known as “search and seizure,” was first adopted in 2010 but not in response to any specific incident, Miller said. He didn’t respond Monday to specific questions regarding when the last time the policy was used or whether anything specific led to its latest implementation.

The policy cited by Miller, however, outlined procedures to be followed by the district.
Trained personnel are to randomly select classrooms and lockers, which are school property, and personal belongings with reasonable grounds. A school official must have reasonable grounds before searching a student’s person and belongings, which means that a student cannot be randomly searched based merely on rumor or anonymous word.

In most cases, the principal will inform the students’ parents or guardian and request their presence. In addition, parents and guardians will be notified when lockers are searched. Personnel will mainly search for weapons, drug paraphernalia and other illegal items. If a weapon or contraband is found, “proper disciplinary actions will be taken.”

Linden High School Principal Yelena A. Horre informed parents and guardians in a Jan. 7 letter.
“The Board of Education recognizes that a safe school environment is an important component in a student’s ability to learn and is, in fact, our No. 1 priority,” she wrote. “In an effort to secure and maintain a safe learning environment, the district will be conducting random searches in accordance with Board Policy 5145.12 — Search and Seizure.”

The policy is specific about procedures.

“School personnel shall not conduct strip searches or body cavity searches of any pupils under any circumstances,” it reads.

When wand searches are conducted, male and female students will form separate lines and will be searched by a staff member of the same sex.

The types of screenings addressed by the policy change will not be conducted on a regularly scheduled basis and are not motivated by particular safety concerns or events. They will be on an “as needed” basis authorized by Interim Superintendent Denise Cleary and/or school officials, when special events are held or when there is a particular safety concern.

“They are conducted to deter students from bringing any type of contraband to school and to secure a safe environment,” Horre wrote in her letter to parents.

There is a specified procedure for wand searches for metallic objects.

The policy explains that if the alarm sounds the first time, the student will be instructed to remove all metal objects.

“If the alarm sounds again, the student should be escorted to a place of privacy, where a more thorough search of this person may be conducted based on reasonable suspicion,” it says.
Contraband includes weapons, illegal drugs, electronic paging devices and any other item that students are banned from possessing by any state or federal law.

School officials include principals, employed security personnel, assistant principals, teachers and school security supervisors.

Classrooms will be randomly selected for regular searches by trained personnel, and metal wands will be used to detect contraband.

“If a student is found to be in possession of a weapon or contraband, appropriate disciplinary consequences will be imposed,” Horre’s letter said.

If a weapon is found, Linden police must be notified immediately, and the weapon will be confiscated by the school official who discovers it until law enforcement arrives.
“The superintendent or his designee, in conjunction with the principal, shall authorize to employ the procedures in determining which students will be subjected to metal detector screenings,” the policy states.