MO: Suspicionless bookbag search at school was safety related and reasonable

This juvenile was subjected to a suspicionless bookbag search by school security in a St. Louis public school that found a gun. The court finds the search was reasonable based on the school safety factor alone. In the Interest of L.E., 2019 Mo. App. LEXIS 1418 (Sept. 10, 2019):

In this case, both Carey and Graham testified that the stated purpose of the SLPS search policy was “safety”; as such, we consider that to be the governmental interest in conducting the search of L.E.’s backpack. Undoubtedly, safety in all public schools (especially in regards to weapons such as firearms and knives) is not only a legitimate government interest, but is a compelling one that needs little verification by this point. See Boim v. Fulton Cnty. Sch. Dist., 494 F.3d 978, 984 (11th Cir. 2007) (noting the “climate of increasing school violence and government oversight,” and that schools have an “[i]ndisputably compelling interest in acting quickly to prevent violence on school property”); Milligan v. City of Slidell, 226 F.3d 652, 655 (5th Cir. 2000) (“In this case, the school sought to protect its students, to foster self-discipline and to deter possibly violent misconduct. These are compelling governmental interests.”); Stockton v. City of Freeport, Tex., 147 F.Supp.2d 642, 646 (S.D. Tex. 2001) (“It is difficult to conceive of a scenario in which a greater governmental interest is invoked than the threat of indiscriminate violence at school.”); In re F.B., 555 Pa. 661, 672-73, 726 A.2d 361 (Pa. 1999) (“Simply stated, testing program designed to deter drug use.”). The courts of other states have also reasoned similarly in regards to public school searches for weapons. See In re F.B., 555 Pa. at 673 (“The [s]chools are simply not required to wait for a tragedy to occur within their walls to demonstrate that the need is immediate.”); J.A., 679 So.2d at 320. With weapons (particularly, firearms) being notoriously problematic for all schools because they pose a constant and grave threat to the safety and wellbeing of every student, teacher, staff member, and guest, it is not hyperbole to say that the interest of safety in public schools in regards to weapons is of the utmost immediacy.

Finally, we find that SLPS’ method of hand-searching bags of all persons entering the school is a reasonably effective means of addressing the compelling government interest of safety. Again, while this search method may not be the least-intrusive means, it is certainly effective in completing the objective of preventing weapons from entering schools, as demonstrated by the fact that the firearm hidden inside a tissue box in L.E.’s backpack was discovered as a result of such a hand-search. As indicated by Carey and Graham’s testimony, bags entering the school are thoroughly searched and the items inside are carefully inspected (such as the tissue box inside L.E.’s backpack containing the firearm). Additionally, the fact that this hand-search policy is known to be enforced throughout SLPS’ system logically acts as a deterrent to persons entering the school with weapons. Thus, SLPS’ method of hand-searching each bag entering the school in this case is an effective means of addressing the interest of personal safety by keeping weapons out of the school.

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