HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's policy at public schools but still not practiced. Controversial locker searches are stuck in limbo – more than a year after the Hawaii Board of Education approved them - because of legal concerns, budget cuts, and a precedent-setting policy. Educators are proceeding with caution.
"When we authorized the search of lockers, it's something that hadn't been done before, and we want to be extra careful that it was being done properly," explains BOE chairman Garrett Toguchi.
The policy allows school administrators to inspect campus lockers - with or without cause – provided that they don't discriminate against students. It's intended to deter young people from bringing drugs, alcohol, or dangerous items onto public school property.The Department of Education says it's in the final stages of putting together guidelines for principals to use when they're inspecting lockers but when pressed, the department couldn't give a specific timeframe for the protocol.
BOE chairman Garrett Toguchi says when boardmembers authorized the policy back in June 2009, there was no precedent set in the state for administrators to inspect lockers. Officials say the DOE has to ensure there are uniform guidelines for administrators statewide - and that those guidelines are vetted by the state Attorney General's office.
Toguchi says, "This was not meant for something that can be carelessly used throughout the system, so we want to make sure that the principals, the administrators, are properly trained in how to search for drugs inside lockers."
The chairman says another reason implementation of the policy may be slow in coming is that the DOE has suffered major budget cuts since the policy was put into effect. "I'm sure that has had an impact on the people who would typically be working on developing these kinds of procedures and because we're talking about procedures that could possibly lead to litigation, we want to be extra careful."
The board decided to revisit the issue of locker searches as it was revising its student conduct and discipline rules back in 2007. The DOE says it released a department-wide survey and received positive feedback from principals who liked the idea of locker searches.
And it may come as a surprise that many students agree with the search policy.
McKinley high school junior Ky Wong says, "I think it's fine. They should be able to inspect and go through - just to check for the safety of others and yourself." 18 year old Tina Tokomaata also says she thinks it's a good idea. "Some people bring stuff to school that they shouldn't."
Still, other students say they shouldn't have to worry about their belongings being rifled through. "I think it just infringes on our rights, so even if it is to prevent drug use or drug distribution, it's still against my rights," says senior Skylar Crozier.
Some civil rights groups agree with Crozier's view. The American Civil Liberties Union,for instance, says locker searches invade students' right to privacy and are unconstitutional. It pledges to continue monitoring the policy change.