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School Staffs Directed To Search Student Bags

February 27, 2004

EDUCATION Minister Manuel Bolaños on Wednesday introduced new guidelines encouraging school administrators to search the bags of students suspected of possessing drugs or weapons.

A student’s backpack, fanny pack, briefcase or any other kind of bag can be searched from the moment the student steps onto a school campus, according to the guidelines.

No law prohibits such searches, according to the Education Ministry. The only laws addressing the subject are broad rights to privacy, according to ministry spokeswoman Carolina Mora.

“The right to life and safety in schools is the most important, more than privacy,” Mora said. “You have to prevent problems before they happen. When you enter a bank, or the courts, or the stadium, they search your bags.”

Although constitutionality concerns have prevented similar provisions in the past, Bolaños said he was motivated to take the action after a school shooting last week left two 11-year-old students injured (TT, Feb. 20). The gun used for the shooting was found two days later in the urinal of the school in Tibás, north of San José, where the incident took place.

The Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office has opened a case against a 17-year-old student at the school whose backpack show ed traces of gunpowder, according to police.

President Abel Pacheco responded to last week’s shooting with an announcement his administration would reintroduce legislation to reform the child welfare code and allow school authorities to search student’s belongings. However, no such legislation had been introduced by press time this week, according to a spokesman at the Legislative Assembly.

The new Ministry guidelines stipulate that if any illegal materials are found, “the presence of the parents or those in charge of the student should be requested immediately and the judicial authorities and administrative police contacted, with the goal of taking the suspect and his goods into custody and filing an appropriate re-port, according to the Penal Process Code.”

The guidelines will go into effect in approximately eight days, according to Mora, once they have been distributed to the country’s approximately 4,000 elementary and high schools.

 

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