PRO | CON: Backpack searches

Backpack searches. Are they an effective measure to reducing weapon related violence in schools or a way for school administrators to randomly search your belongings?

Backpack+searches%3A+A+matter+of+security+or+a+violation+of+student+privacy%3F

STANLEY MORALES | PEXELS

Backpack searches: A matter of security or a violation of student privacy?


PRO | Backpack searches



A father’s frantic text to his son read, “stay hidden or play dead if there is an active shooter.” Another exchange between siblings read, “my teacher died…he’s sitting in the doorway.”

Screenshots of these messages were later posted to Twitter after the 2018 shooting that occurred on the campus of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

This incident was one of 1,316 school shootings that have occurred since 1970. In 2021 alone, there have been over 200 incidents involving shooting threats made. For the past 50 years, students across the US go to school with the fear that they may never come back.

Despite numerous failed bills in Congress concerning gun violence in schools, California students finally have hope that we could finally see an end to active shooter situations plaguing schools. 

Senate Bill 906, introduced by Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada-Flintridge) on Feb. 2, has multiple components that may help prevent school shootings before the first bullet is fired. 

Senator Portantino’s proposition came as a result of the Oxford High School shooting in Michigan where 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley brought a gun he received as a present from his parents to school.

Despite numerous warning signs and numerous meetings with school officials, Crumbley was able to hide his gun in his backpack. He later used that same gun to kill four students and injure seven others.

A photo of the gun Ethan Crumbley was believed to use in the Oxford High School shooting. (CREDIT: SCREEN CAPTURE | INSTAGRAM)

The first part of Portantino’s bill mandates that a student’s parent or guardian disclose if they have any firearms within their home when they register a student for public or charter schools. If there is a firearm within the home, parents/guardians are required to provide details on gun ownership, storage and accessibility to the student. 

The second part of the bill requires that when a threat of violence is made against a school, the proper authorities be notified, and, with the help of law enforcement, a student’s on-campus property can be searched for weapons. 

The final part of the proposed bill requires school administrators to issue an annual notification to parents/guardians which includes information about the proper procedure of storing firearms. 

I support the implementation of this bill into schools across California. As a student, I want to learn in an environment that is safe. As an individual, I want to be part of a community that doesn’t have me looking over my shoulder constantly in fear of discharge from a weapon. Unfortunately, it’s hard to feel this way in an environment that neglects the safety of students. 

In the past, when threats of violence have been made against Van Nuys High School in posts alluding to arson or school shootings, the school did the bare minimum to ensure the safety of students on campus. Emails were sent out to students, parents and faculty in an attempt to reassure the community that school was a safe place and that there would be a presence of law enforcement on campus. 

Principal De Santiago informed parents that the social media threat is not credible in her email to parents Thursday night. (CREDIT: SCREENSHOT | ANI TUTUNJYAN)

On both occasions, one quick look around the campus confirmed that the promise of a law enforcement presence was an outright lie. I vividly remember that on both days, I arrived at school fearing for my safety. Both days, the school felt abandoned. Student attendance was just half of what it was the day prior. I had the gut-wrenching feeling that school district officials were just treating the situation just like another day. Although the school did conduct lockdown drills following the threats, that was the first time during my two years here that we actually conducted lockdown drills. 

Senate Bill 906 gives me hope. This bill is an actual preventative measure rather than a measure to reduce fatalities. Rather than having drastic drops in attendance, or worse, having students hide in classrooms during an active shooter situation, students can actually learn in an environment where they feel safe. 

According to data provided by the Sandy Hook Promise organization, 77 percent of active shooters spent a week or longer planning their attack. Guns used in those incidents were taken from the home, a friend or a relative 68 percent of the time. In four of five school shootings, another person had been made aware of the attacker’s plan but failed to notify the proper authorities. Prior to nearly all mass shooting situations since 2018, the attackers have made threatening or concerning communications. 

There is a misconception that this proposal brings back random searches, but school authorities will need probable cause to search personal belongings on campus. 

It is ignorant of anyone, regardless of their political stances or privacy beliefs, to refuse to support this bill. 

I will gladly give up some of my own personal privacy if it means we can ensure the safety of more than 2,000 other individuals on campus. 

Passing this bill won’t eliminate active shooter situations in schools, but it is the first step towards recreating a safer environment for student learning.


CON | Backpack searches



Three years ago I was selected for a random backpack search.

I started panicking.

Did a knife and bag of cocaine suddenly appear in my bag? Did my water bottle magically get replaced with vodka instead of water?

Of course, none of those things happened because I had neither a knife, cocaine nor vodka in my backpack but I was scared nonetheless.

I, along with the other students in my class chosen for the search, were lined up outside the class and had to hand our backpacks over to the administrator conducting the search.

My heart was beating out of my chest as I stood against the wall waiting for my turn.

The administrator looked through my bag and once he was satisfied with its contents, I was free to go.

I didn’t get in trouble because I didn’t have anything illegal with me and most people getting searched don’t either, but it didn’t make the experience any less terrifying.

Now, backpack searches may make a return with the proposal of a new gun safety bill.

Introduced by State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), the bill would require school administrators to collect information from parents about guns stored at home and would mandate backpack, locker and car searches if there is a credible threat or danger of mass casualty.

The proposed legislation comes after Michigan school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley raised suspicions among teachers but was allowed to return to class without his backpack searched. Hours later, he used a gun he brought with him to allegedly kill four students.

While preventing school shootings should be a priority, mandating backpack searches is not the best way to do it.

Searches that can only be conducted with valid reasoning are often abused.

An example of this abuse is probable cause. If a police officer pulls you over for a traffic stop, and decides they have a justifiable reason to search your vehicle they can.

Officers tend to target people of color, specifically Black men, when trying to search vehicles. A Black man posted a video to social media of an officer trying to find probable cause by asking him whether he has any illegal drugs or weapons in his car. After the man answered no to all the questions, the officer tried to get him to consent to searching his vehicle. After denying consent, the cop decided to call a K-9. Officers can easily mimic a K-9 barking sound to grant them access to searching vehicles.

A photographer walks next to a line formed of police officers patrolling Van Nuys Blvd. during Black Lives Matter protest on June 1, 2020. (CREDIT: IVAN DELGADO)

Probable causes aren’t the only example of people in power taking advantage of laws passed in vulnerable times.

The USA PATRIOT Act, passed to deter terrorist attacks following 9/11, allowed for the collection of phone records and other personal internet searches to be collected and reviewed by the government. If your searches raised suspicion, the government would monitor everything you searched.

This particular bill was also used to target a group that “fit the description”: Brown people.

School politics operates just like real-life politics.

If the legislation is passed, school officials will be able to use the mandate to search backpacks for reasons other than gun threats and target Black and Hispanic students much like police officers do.

Criminalizing students administrators think “fit the description” is harmful to students’ trust and self-image.

Schools should be a safe space for all students and that means finding a way to prevent school shootings that won’t discriminate against any individual.