Having received Royal Assent in the last month, the Education Amendment Act 2013 will now come into force on 1 January 2014. The Act contains provisions which gives state schools power to search and seize student's property if they believe the student has a harmful item in their possession.
In the early stages of the legislation, the provisions only contained powers to compel students to hand over harmful items. Teachers could then retain any surrendered property, including electronic devices which might contain harmful items. Schools were limited in what search techniques they could use. They could not search students, student's clothing or use drug dogs.
While most schools were happy to have legal powers to perform these tasks for the first time, many were concerned the powers did not go far enough. After the submissions process, a number of changes were made including introducing the power to search student's clothing and bags.
The key amendments that have been accepted into the final version of the Act are:
- Non-teaching staff members employed by a school Board may now be authorised to carry out the powers given to teachers by the provisions of the Act. The authorisation must be from the Board and in writing.
- Where a teacher reasonably believes that a student has a harmful item on his or her person or in a bag or other container, they may require the student to remove their outer clothing or surrender the bag or other container. The teacher can only search the student's belongings if the student has, after a request, refused to produce the item.
- Unless impracticable, the search must be carried out by a teacher in the presence of another teacher who are both of the same sex as the student.
- The search must not be carried out in front of any other person.
- Schools may now hire contractors to bring trained dogs onto the premises for the purpose of searching school property (lockers, desks etc). Schools may not use the dogs to search a student's person or their belongings.
- Schools will be able to encourage students to participate in a voluntary drug treatment programme that involves testing of bodily samples. However, they still may not require them to give bodily samples.
- Secretary for Education must provide a set of rules and guidelines regulating the practices and procedures to be followed for surrendering, retaining and searching property. These rules and guidelines must be in place before these provisions are due to come into force on 1 January 2014.