Bugger the Bill of Rights – Tolley has got to empower school heads to flush out drugs and weapons

So who runs our bloody schools these days?

Oh, yes. The kids.

Alf’s perturbation at the extent to which the brats have taken over is reinforced by a report in the Dom-Post this morning.

The Education Ministry is advising principals of the ludicrous prospect of pupils taking schools to court if they are searched for weapons or drugs.

The privacy commissioner plays a role in this story (surprise, surprise). She is saying pupils should not be searched unless consent has been given.

Alf was astonished to learn this post was not abolished during the Government’s assault on wasteful public expenditure.

Oh, and sure enough, we have ministry mandarins running around with copies of the bloody Bill of Rights.

Ministry spokesman Rawiri Brell said there were no specific powers for schools to search pupils. Instead schools had to ensure their policies conformed with the Bill of Rights.

“First there must be reasonable grounds to commence a search and … the search must be done in a reasonable way.”

So who is pleading with Education Minister Anne Tolley and the ministry to urgently develop a policy giving schools the power to search pupils?

The school principals.

Alf welcomes their initiative.

Not so long ago, the idea of discipline reform in schools was being promoted to improve levels of literacy and numeracy.

It looked like a no-brainer to Alf but the Herald reported:

Secondary Principals’ Association president Paul Ferris said that while no one wanted to return to corporal punishment, “we have not found the appropriate replacement tools for teachers to instil discipline in a changing society”.

Parents and schools needed to work together rather than in conflict to find ways of improving classroom behaviour.

This Ferris feller thereby affirmed something that long has bothered Alf: we got rid of corporal punishment without having a disciplinary regime – let along a better one – to replace it.

The incumbent Secondary Principals Association president, Patrick Walsh, is now expressing concerns as levels of violence in classrooms rise, including two stabbings of teachers.

Mr Walsh said the ministry had provided schools with some guidelines, but was worried the advice left schools open to court action under the Bill of Rights.

The section of the ministry’s guidelines that concerned him says: “In the absence of a court ruling, schools find themselves in the uncertain position of leaving themselves open to a claim … It is inevitable that at some point, a student will bring an action in the court.”

An incident on May 9 at Te Puke High School in which a teacher was stabbed three times in the neck and shoulder by a 13-year-old boy and drug searches at other schools highlighted the “uncertainty of the law”, Mr Walsh said.

“Legal opinion is divided on whether schools have the power of search and if so, under what conditions. There is no specific law which permits schools to conduct searches.”

Alf was bemused to learn that a section of the Bill of Rights might protect pupils from unreasonable search and seizure and that the ministry cannot give the principals a definitive answer.

“It would be useful, however, if their legal division could develop a generic school policy and undertake to provide support to the unfortunate school who lands up in court as the test case.”

So what’s the answer?

Call in the cops, apparently, although we all know they are being kept busy dealing with crime elsewhere. They could be spared one more sphere of responsibility if principals and teachers were adequately armed and empowered to deal with the brats.

But no.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said if there was a threat to safety, schools should call police, rather than search pupils.

“I am sure that principals will approach this potentially controversial issue with real caution. They will already know that there are many potential pitfalls for schools in carrying out searches of students.

“Students should not normally be subject to body searches unless they or their parents have given consent.”

Tolley told the newspaper she had spoken to Walsh about his concerns and was happy to talk to him again.

Alf thinks Walsh wants something a bit more effective than talk.

He thinks, moreover, that he should be given it.

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