New guidelines for safety at school

Issue: Volume 93, Number 5

Posted: 24 March 2014
Reference #: 1H9ct_

Recently introduced legislation will assist schools in responding to safety issues, where a student is suspected to have a concerning item in their possession. The re-vamped law aims to eliminate hesitancy and confusion around what is expected of staff; the Ministry has published online guidelines that explain the new rules in detail.

What happens when you suspect that a student has in their possession something that could be a danger to everybody? What can a staff member do about it? What are they not allowed to do? What is the accepted protocol?

New legislation has been recently introduced that makes the whole issue less opaque, and the Ministry has published exhaustive guidelines – developed with full cooperation and support from schools – so that school staff can be confident in their rights and obligations. The guidelines will lead to better outcomes for all concerned when these unfortunate situations arise.

Guiding principles

It is impossible to come up with a reference resource that can hope to exhaustively cover all possibilities when it comes to safety concerns. Instead, teachers are expected to exercise good judgement, armed with an understanding of the guidelines and rules. The key factor is this: schools should look to what is reasonable in situations where there is not an immediately obvious response.

Everyone expects that school is always an environment free from drugs, weapons, cyber bullying, and alcohol, among many other threats to safety. Schools should make sure that their written policy reflects this expectation. The other side of the coin is of course that students can expect that, like everybody else in New Zealand, “everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.” (New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990).

Breaking it down

There are essentially four main parts to the legislation: CRITERIA; SURRENDER; SEARCHES; RETENTION. Of course, at the conclusion of any incident where legislation is invoked, there can be no hard and fast rules as to a school’s response; usual disciplinary or behavioural management practice should apply.


Before acting, staff need to form a belief on reasonable grounds that a student has an item that falls under one of the categories described below. It’s important to note that ‘reasonable grounds’ doesn’t mean ‘absolutely certain’. What is reasonable will depend on the context and the nature of the item. It’s also key that ‘item’ doesn’t have to mean ‘something physical.’ It can mean information, such as images on a phone.

In general, though, the item must fall under one or more of the following categories.

The item will be:

Likely to endanger safety

Circumstance is very important here. For example, a dagger could be considered dangerous, but what if it’s a Sikh ceremonial dagger sewn into clothing? The list of items that could be dangerous is never ending and can include things such as: bullying texts, drugs, laser pens, steel rulers, a compass, a craft knife, scissors, guns of various types, alcohol, and spray cans. Staff are free under the law to use reasonable judgement.

Likely to detrimentally affect the learning environment

This is a very broad category. Anything that disrupts the flow of teaching and learning has a detrimental effect on the learning environment. Examples range from the comparatively innocuous (but extremely annoying) persistent tapping of a ruler, through to beeping mobile phones and theft of a wallet or craft knife.


A harmful item is one that poses an immediate threat to safety; the emphasis here the importance of evaluating the circumstances and context of the situation. It is very important to note that this is the only category for which a search can be conducted. The other two categories can only by law result in the surrender and retention of an item.


A staff member may require students to produce, reveal and surrender items in their possession or control if the staff member has reasonable grounds to believe that a student has an item that is likely to endanger safety, detrimentally affect the learning environment, or is an item that poses an immediate threat to safety. There are many implications to this aspect of the legislation that are not covered here; more information is within the guidelines. There are also lots of helpful scenarios that serve to demonstrate common situations in which the law can be applied.


A search is an examination of a person or property for something that is hidden. Searches can only be conducted for something that is deemed harmful; in other words, a staff member considers that the item poses an immediate threat. A search can include a situation where a student is required to remove clothing; note, though, that clothing cannot be searched until the student has removed it, as it is unlawful to search a student’s person. Only the police have the remit to do this, and in a situation where a student refuses to remove clothing, police can indeed be involved. A search can also involve a situation where a student is required to remove head covering, gloves, footwear, socks, or surrender a bag or containers. See the guidelines for more detail.

The topic of searches is far-reaching in its implications, for everybody involved, and one of the important steps that is not covered by the law is just to take a deep breath and ask yourself whether the situation demands a search. Again, the key word is ‘reasonable.’


When a staff member considers that an item surrendered by a student, or revealed following a search, should be taken from the student’s possession, there are rules around storage, return, passing to another person or agency, and possible disposal.
The following should be considered:

  • health and safety of the student
  • apparent value of the item
  • the person believed to be entitled to a stolen item or device.

Under the legislation, schools must record in writing every item or device that is retained for more than two school nights. Again, there are lots of illustrative examples in the guidelines that can help teachers to be confident in their application of the law.

The Ministry will monitor the implementation of the guidelines and seek feedback from the school sector, and where necessary, makes changes to ensure the guidelines achieve their purpose.

Read the guidelines!

This article serves to merely outline the new amended legislation and should in no way be considered a guide to the application of the law. When a school finds itself in a situation where the law may need to be enacted, it’s better for all involved if everybody knows exactly how to proceed, so download the guidelines from the link below.


Download the guidelines(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:46 pm, 24 March 2014

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