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School Violence: Laws and Regulations

Laws concerning school violence are constantly changing. The threats faced by students are constantly changing, and all levels of government want to keep children safe. However, they cannot do so at the expense of personal freedom. This article reviews some of the laws regarding school violence.

Federal Laws on Weapons in Schools

The federal government's first foray into school safety was the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 (the GFSA), which made it a crime for anyone to bring a firearm close to a school district. Congress claimed that it had authority to do this because school violence affected interstate commerce, but the Supreme Court disagreed and struck the law down.

Congress later amended the GFSA and made it a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (the ESEA), which later became No Child Left Behind (NCLB). These laws made a "zero-tolerance" policy on weapons a requirement to receive federal funding on education. Schools across the nation therefore have strict policies banning weapons from school.

However, federal laws also restrict school officials' ability to enforce these bans. Specifically, the Constitution limits the types of searches school administrators can conduct in order to find weapons. School administrators may also wish to punish students for violent or bullying speech. However, students are protected by the First Amendment, and have limited freedoms while on campus. Their off campus speech, however disturbing, is completely protected by the First Amendment.

State Laws on School Violence

In response to the mandates in the ESEA and NCLB, many states enacted complete bans on weapons in schools throughout their state. States are not prohibited from weapons bans in the same way the federal government is; instead, creating and enforcing weapons bans near schools is absolutely the domain of state law makers.

However, these bans are often complicated by the state's attitudes towards gun control. Some states have laws in effect that protect an individual's ability to carry a concealed weapon, and adults legally carrying a concealed weapon may enter school grounds. Some states were even debating whether to train their teachers in gun safety so that each teacher could become an armed defender of their students' lives, but no state has yet enacted such a law. Be sure to check with a local education attorney to learn more about your state's laws on school violence.

States also typically run a state university system and may have adopted anti-hazing or anti-violence policies that apply to adult students. Check with your state's university system to find out more about these laws.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on Student Discipline and Codes of Conduct.

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