OPINION

Search Search CREDIT: WebSafety NZ

Teachers Given Search Powers: Are we going Too Far?

Friday 26 August 2011, 10:15AM
By WebSafety NZ
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On 25 August 2011, the Education Ministry announced that teachers and principals have the right to search through students’ personal diaries, cell phones or laptops under new guidelines.

The announcement goes on to say that searches and confiscations affect student rights and their privacy and should only be carried out if a student has, or is believed to have, an item that poses an immediate or direct threat to safety.

The extent of the search extends from a physical search to also involve searching a student's correspondence, including written and electronic material (e.g. in a diary, on a mobile phone or on a laptop).

The full article can be read here:
http://www.minedu.govt.nz/~/media/MinEdu/Files/Boards/Support/SearchingStudentsAndConfiscation.pdf

These guidelines bring into New Zealand something that has never been done before. It puts the interpretation of the guidelines in the hands of teachers and principals, allowing them to search personal belongings of students.

My guess is that when it comes to the potential of searching a diary, mobile phone or laptop, the purpose for this could be related to bullying? It is common knowledge that cyber bullying is a worldwide issue affecting over 50% of children. It is not selective in demographics and crosses all walks in society.

I have spoken to a few parents, and the general consensus is that they are against any teacher searching personal belongings of their children.

It raises another question. If a child had their laptop searched due to them being in suspicion of involvement in bullying tactics, and no evidence was found, it would certainly leave the child feeling victimised. On the other hand, if evidence was found, would the parents have any possibility of knowing before hand? The answer is probably not, unless they were actively using monitoring software on that computer or mobile.

The new search powers are going to require careful thought before they are used. Where there is good reason to search for harmful weapons, I say ‘bring it on.’

When we move that search into the electronic space it becomes a completely different ball game.

Principals and teachers will need to establish their own clear guidelines as to what point the search powers are enacted. Otherwise, a lot of parents are going to be very unhappy.

I would not be surprised if we hear a lot more about the new search powers, as we wait for the first school to use them!

WebSafety NZ promotes internet safety across NZ. For more information see www.websafety.co.nz