Laws Prohibiting Weapons at Schools

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What are the Guidelines for Weapons at School?

Many Federal laws have been enacted in response to an increasing rate of violence and weapons possessions in public schools.  For example, the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990 makes it a crime for a person to possess a gun or firearm in a school zone (whether they are a student or not). 

Historically, most schools have outlawed obvious threats to student safety such as guns and explosives.  However, some school districts have reported an increase in the general level of violence at schools.  As a result, many states have expanded their guidelines to prohibit the possession of many other types of weapons at school, including:

Basically, weapons and especially firearms are never allowed in school unless it is authorized, for example if an armed police officer is scheduled to make a presentation on campus.   

Can Students be subjected to a search for Weapons at School?

Normally, citizens (including students) have a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures.  The 4th Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches if the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.  However, if there is a reasonable suspicion that a student is in possession of a weapon, the need to preserve public safety may require them to submit to a weapons search.

Thus, a warrantless “administrative search” can be conducted by an on-site police officer or school personnel such as a teacher, counselor, or principal.  For example, the student’s locker may be searched for weapons.  Also, if reasonable suspicion exists that the student is harboring a weapon, a search may be conducted of their personal belongings such as their pockets or a backpack.

However, it must be stressed that the administrative personnel conducting the search must have reasonable suspicion that the student is carrying a weapon before they conduct the search.  That is, they cannot open concealed containers or ask a student to empty their pockets unless they have a reasonable suspicion to do so.  The reasonable suspicion must be based on definite facts rather than mere rumor or hearsay.  On the other hand, school authorities can seize any weapons that are in “plain view”. 

Finally, many states allow some schools to require students to submit to a metal detector test.  This may take the form of a metal detector device that all students must pass through before entering the schools.  Or, a wand-type metal detector device may be passed over a student’s clothing to determine whether or not they have a weapon on their person.  In either case, the use of metal detectors must again be reasonable and must be in conformity with state laws and school district policies.

Every school district has different guidelines regarding weapons and the right to privacy at school.  Therefore it may be necessary to consult with a lawyer if you have questions regarding the laws of your particular municipality. 

Can Parents be Held Responsible for their Children’s actions at School?

Many states have laws that hold parents liable for criminal acts performed by their children while at school.  This is particularly true if the parent knew about the dangerous situation but failed to take measures to prevent injuries or damages.  Thus, a parent can be guilty of a criminal misdemeanor such as “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”.  Parental liability for a child exists until the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 years of age).

Similarly, teachers can be held liable for failing to report a crime such as student violence or possession of a weapon at school. 

For the student, possession of a weapon can result in suspension or expulsion from school.  Furthermore, the student may be subject to criminal misdemeanor or even felony charges. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for issues with Weapons at School?

Possessing a weapon at school is a serious offense.  You should inform your child of the dangers that weapons can present to other students and teachers.  If your child has been accused of possessing a weapon at school, it is important that you contact a lawyer immediately.  If a search was made in violation of constitutional rights, the evidence obtained should be excluded in court.  Your attorney can help determine whether a search was properly made, and also if there are any possible defenses available for your child. 

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Last Modified: 09-26-2012 03:27 PM PDT

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