Parents, teachers and students generally agree that a school needs to be a safe place where students can focus on the important work of learning. However, there is some disagreement as to the best policies for making a school safe. Locker searches are one tool schools have to ensure that students are following school policies, but they are not without drawbacks.
The primary advantage of locker searches is their effectiveness. Finding contraband material such as stolen property, drugs or weapons in a student's locker is an easy way to establish guilt and know which students to punish for theft or other violations of school policy. Locker searches can be localized to the lockers of suspected students or drug-sniffing dogs can alert administrators to lockers that may contain illegal substances or drug paraphernalia.
Besides its effectiveness in practice, the very presence of a school locker search policy can be an effective deterrent. If students know their lockers are subject to search, they may be less likely to bring banned items to school in the first place, making the school environment safer.
The biggest drawback to a school locker search is the lack of trust students may feel as a result of actions they see as an invasion of privacy. Because students may keep personal items in their lockers, such as photographs and personal letters, even a search with the best intentions can appear to be a major breach of trust by teachers and administrators, causing a rift between the student body and the faculty.
School locker searches also consume valuable time for administrators, security guards and teachers who conduct them. If a school decides to institute a locker search policy, there is the added need for time to bring the issue up at a school board or parent-teacher association meetings, along with the time and effort to send notices to students and parents alerting them of the new policy.
School locker searches may also run into any one of a number of legal issues. The actual legal status of a locker search will eventually depend on the reasons for suspecting a locker of containing dangerous or illegal contents and the presence or absence of a locker search policy known by students. If a student or her parents choose to take legal action against a school because of a locker search, a costly legal battle could follow.
Despite the legal issues surrounding locker searches, courts tend to favor schools in such cases, according to World Law Direct. This is especially true in cases where students were warned of the potential for locker searches at an earlier time, such as in a student handbook or announced at the beginning of the school year. Evidence that a locker search was conducted based on real evidence of a potential threat can strengthen a school's case even more.