KBS Reference Desk: Metal Detectors in Schools

Q: Our District is exploring options to increase security on our campuses, including (possibly) the use of metal detectors. We are looking at both walk through and hand-held detector “wands.” What are the legal risks for using metal detectors generally, and what issues should we be aware of?

A: Using either type of metal detector on school district property is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment and, thus, must be reasonable in light of the circumstances surrounding the search.

Under both the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution, students have the right to be free from “unreasonable” searches and seizures by government actors (i.e., public schools). School district searches can either be personal or administrative. “Personal” searches are conducted on a select student (or specific group of students) based upon “individualized suspicion” of wrongdoing. Alternatively, “administrative” searches are conducted objectively to an entire school, campus or classroom, or to a randomly-selected group of students based on a general policy or safety measure (e.g., random drug testing of all students who participate in extracurricular activities). Texas courts have yet to tackle the issue of metal detectors in public schools but have upheld their use as “administrative” searches in alternative learning centers based on the public entity’s “interest in maintaining a safe and disciplined learning environment in a setting at high risk for drugs and violence.”

The determinative factor to sustain legal challenge, therefore, will be the purpose of the search – not necessarily whether the metal detector is wand or stand alone. While a wand may appear more intrusive, if used with multiple students in the same fashion without regard to suspected misconduct, a wand search could, at least in theory, pass muster as an appropriate administrative search. Wands are typically used, however, as a supplement to a stand-alone machine (following an alert) or for personal searches when reasonable suspicion exists that the student possesses a prohibited (metal) item, such as a firearm or other weapon. As such, it is critical that district employees be specifically trained on the legal standards for “individualized suspicion,” which require that the search be both reasonable at its inception (i.e. actual evidence of possible policy violation) and reasonable in scope (i.e. metal detector will confirm violation) in order for the search to be considered constitutional.

If your district is considering the purchase and use of metal detectors on one or more of its campuses, we recommend that you work with your school attorney in development of administrative procedures, staff training and required amendments to policy FNF (LOCAL).

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Recent Articles

KBS Reference Desk: Evaluating SPED Teachers after COVID-19
April 2, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Pay During Closure
February 26, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Virtual Learning and Child Find
February 5, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: American Rescue Plan
January 29, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: TOMA Suspension Extension – Additional 30 days
January 15, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Updated FFCRA Guidance
January 8, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: New Stay-at-Home Protocols
December 18, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Vaccine as a Requirement for School Attendance
December 11, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Campus Closure due to COVID-19 and Funding
December 4, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Nonexempt Volunteer Work
November 20, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: TPIA – 10-day Extension
November 6, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Discontinue Virtual Learning
October 30, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Political Dress
October 23, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Emergency Safety Drills
October 16, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Requests for Homebound Instruction During COVID
October 9, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Mask Exception
October 2, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: UIL Football Streaming
September 26, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Eligible Expenses Under Coronavirus Relief Fund
September 18, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Confidentiality and the ADA
September 11, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Threat Assessment
September 4, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Emergency Board Meetings
August 28, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Homebound Services
August 21, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: COVID-19 Student Privacy and Virtual Learning
August 14, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: ADA Accommodations Based on Family Member’s Disability
August 7, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: EPSL EFML
July 31, 2020