Teachers are to get explicit powers to search children - potentially even strip-search them - for weapons.

The Government is to release draft guidelines applying to the classroom, schoolyard and to extramural activities such as camps and field trips.

In May, Te Puke High School mathematics head Steve Hose, 53, was knifed with a 10cm kitchen blade. A 13-year-old was taken into police custody. A Post Primary Teachers Association survey this year found at least two secondary teachers were seriously assaulted by pupils every school day.

The Ministry of Education search and seizure guidelines will be controversial. While strip-searching will apply only when weapons are suspected, teachers will also be able to search for drugs.

The guidelines come after the Herald on Sunday revealed pupils at Rotorua Boys' High School said they had been asked to strip to their underwear and drink water before undergoing random drug tests.

The ministry hoped to release the rules last month, but education minister Anne Tolley said consultation with external legal advisers "was taking longer than expected".

The Crown Law Office and other legal experts, including education law expert Paul Rishworth, have scrutinised the rules. A source said their publication was "imminent".

They will also empower the likes of support staff and board members to search pupils.

Patrick Walsh, head of the School Principals' Association, said the guidelines would clear up "a grey area of law" about teachers' powers to search students who might pose a threat to others. "They will provide clarity for schools and it is something that has been needed for a long time," he said.

Teachers should be allowed to restrain and strip-search pupils in "extreme cases", he said, where recovering a weapon was necessary to protect lives. At present, teachers were reluctant to search students for fear of being charged with assault or facing a Teachers Council complaint.

Labour education spokesman Trevor Mallard said it was useful for teachers to have guidelines but he did not agree with strip-searching children.

"I would not approve of teachers doing cavity searches or telling children to take their clothes off," he said.

Peter Altmann, from parents' support group Tough Love, welcomed the new powers. "If we want schools to be free of drugs and weapons we need to do something about it and giving teachers power to search students is a way to do that."

The guidelines are intended to clarify when and where teachers can search pupils. They will make it clear that there must be reasonable grounds to suspect a pupil is carrying drugs or a weapon before they can be subjected to a body search.


Rotorua Boys' High School says it is entitled to search students in its boarding hostel, arguing they do not have the same legal protections there as they would in the classroom.

The school has obtained a controversial legal opinion that denies pupils many of their usual civil rights, after revelations in the Herald on Sunday about how school staff had searched students suspected of possessing drugs.

Dennis Finn, the school's statutory manager, said there were "major" implications for school hostels and he had raised them with the education ministry.

The school, well known for producing some of the country's top sports stars, is refusing to apologise for what parents say are draconian enforcement actions.

Some students said they had been asked to strip to their underwear, sometimes in front of a teacher, and to drink up to 15 cups of water before undergoing urine tests.

In at least two cases, parents complained they were not immediately notified of the allegations and their sons were kicked out of the hostel without fair process.

Lawyer Richard Harrison confirmed he had advised the school that boarding hostels did not fall under the protections of the Education Act, which require that schools abide by principles of natural justice in enforcing their rules and disciplining students.

Labour list MP Steve Chadwick is backing parents' calls for an apology, saying education minister Anne Tolley has not treated the sensitive and serious allegations with sufficient urgency. If the legal opinion was upheld, she said it would set an "appalling" precedent for every school hostel in the country.

But Tolley refused to discuss specific of the allegations, instead accusing Chadwick of "playing politics".