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Story published: 02-04-2014 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Workshop provides search training to help keep schools safe

By Meghan McCoy
Staff Writer

The Washington County Department of Education is partnering with the Sheriff’s Office to provide its staff with the correct training on how to search students.

“We feel like that is one area that schools should cover — the proper searching of students in the school setting,” Assistant Director of Schools for Attendance and Discipline James Murphy said.

Murphy said the Supreme Court has maintained that students do not shed their constitutional rights when on a school campus.

In order to have a safe environment, however, students can be searched under reasonable suspicion, Murphy said. That is a lower standard set by the courts than what is generally accepted on the streets, he added, which requires a search warrant or probable cause.

All administrators for Washington County schools are required to have search training.

“We keep a list of new administrators coming in and we make sure, periodically, that every administrator in the school system has had this training,” Murphy said.

A two-hour search workshop was held on Jan. 23 for 38 school employees at Asbury Optional High School in Johnson City.

“Some schools have not had a change since their administrators had the course. We didn’t require them to come,” he said. “But we did ask every school to send someone.”

Some schools sent guidance counselors and teachers, Murphy added. School Resource Officers also participated in the training.

Every Washington County school has a resource officer assigned, with some officers assigned to two or three schools, Murphy said.

During the training, participants are given a list of the type of school searches that could be done, as well as a list of forbidden searches on school campuses. Examples were then provided through role play.

Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal said the search workshop shows staff how to do a pat down safely in the different quadrants of the body, as well as how to protect themselves. He said two people should always be present during a pat down.

Another part of the training focuses on types of weapons, as well as the styles of clothing used to hide them. “We try to cover every scenario that we have run into,” Graybeal said.

In one exercise, 37 weapons, both guns and knives, were hidden for participants to find. That exercise is important, Graybeal said, because some weapons can look as innocent as a pen.

Since some of the clothing also have pouches to hide guns, he said they showed how to look for weapons in that scenario.

Murphy said there are essentially two school searches that are done.

“A good legal school search would be divided into two major areas, which is the jacket search with pockets turned out and the other search, which is rarely ever done, would be a pat down,” he said.

The most common search, Murphy said is a jacket and pocket search.

“We don’t encourage pat downs. Pat downs are not necessary unless there is a real substantial fear that the student has a weapon,” he said.

An exercise involving a backpack was also held during the workshop to show how to proceed once it is laid down on a table.

The importance of noticing the out-of-the-ordinary is also stressed. If someone shows up wearing a coat during the summer months, Graybeal said, it should be investigated.

The workshop, he said, is about showing school staff what is out there and how to look for certain items.

“It’s a good course, it’s very informative of what to look for and how to look for it,” Graybeal said. “It was a good day for us, a good informative day.”

Murphy said the workshop also included instruction on verbal judo by Dr. Ginger Christian. The technique teaches true listening, hearing what a person is saying and diffusing the anger.

“Occasionally in the school system, we have parents who are upset, sometimes upset by someone else,” Murphy said.

“We need to learn how to listen to them and address their concerns without becoming emotionally involved.”

Graybeal said the workshops are held upon the schools’ request.

He said the WCSO appreciates the opportunity to work with the Washington County schools to help them stay safe.