Police Search of Students' Bags Yields Only Controversy

A controversy erupted at a school in the Western Galilee last week over efforts by police to prevent violence by searching students' backpacks as they entered the school.

Last Thursday, police searched dozens of students' bags, pitting some parents and their children, who oppose the practice, against the administration and parents' association at the Tarshiha Comprehensive School in Ma'alot-Tarshiha.

Parents and students said that eight plain-clothes policemen were stationed at the gate to the school to randomly inspect the bags of students as they arrived at the school, which is attended by both junior high and high-school students.

Police said that the operation was carried out at the request of the school administration and in full coordination with school officials out of concern that students were bringing knives and other dangerous objects to school.

Earlier in the school year, a series of violent incidents had occurred at the school involving students carrying sharp objects.

Police said the effort did not yield any dangerous objects but point out that this is not the first time Western Galilee police have conducted such searches and some schools have arranged similar inspection operations in an effort to deter violence.

The Tarshiha school administration said the police searches were part of the school's plan to prevent violence, adding that "we are aware of the fact that it is a sensitive subject, but we are pleased that ultimately the search did not yield anything out of the ordinary."

The Education Ministry said a ministry directive authorizes a search of students' bags by authorized personnel if it is suspected that the students are carrying weapons, adding that it should be done "while preserving the student's dignity and rights to privacy."

A number of parents at the Tarshiha school objected to the police operation, saying it was an attempt to frighten the students and was an inappropriate violation of the students' privacy.

"At the school they know very well who the students are who are considered a problem and they should keep an eye on them rather than turning all of the students into suspects," one student told Haaretz.

After the controversy arose, the parents' association at the school convened to discuss the matter and decided to express its full support for the school administration.