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Student Searches in Schools: What Are My Child’s Rights?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 16, 2018

What Are Student Searches?

Teachers, administrators, school counselors, and other personnel use student searches to keep a campus safe. From drug suspicions to school shooting concerns, school officials have asked students to empty their backpacks, open their lockers, and even reveal the contents of their pockets during these searches. Most of the time, these searches do not yield dangerous results.

While these searches may seem important to keep our students safe, you may be wondering what your child’s rights are during these searches. How far can school officials go in their investigation of a student? Is your child allowed to say no? Can officials investigate their locker, phone, or car?

The results of student searches can be scary and uncertain. It is necessary for you and your child to know why these searches occur and what your rights are in these situations.

Reasons for Student Searches

American students, like all residents, are protected under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Since the landmark 1985 Supreme Court case New Jersey v. T.L.O., the Fourth Amendment protects children at public schools from unreasonable searches without reasonable suspicion. This means that a school official can’t just search a student at random without cause.

Reasonable suspicion exists when:

  • The search is justified at its inception. This means that the school official has reasonable grounds to believe that the student was committing a suspicious or dangerous act, violating the law, or breaking school rules.
  • The scope of the search is reasonably related to the circumstances of the suspected action. This indicates that the means of investigation the school official uses is proportional to the severity of the suspected act. This protects the student from excessive intrusion.

Reasonable suspicion is not always clear, however. Several other Supreme Court cases have further defined what reasonable suspicion means. For example, according to Burnham v. West, a strong odor of marijuana in the halls is not reasonable suspicion for an official to search all the students’ bags and pockets. However, according to Bridgman v. New Trier High School District No. 203, if a drug counselor notices symptoms of drug use in a student, such as dilated and bloodshot eyes, this is reasonable suspicion.

Your Child’s Rights at School

School searches raise questions of excessive intrusion, invasion of privacy, and human rights among parents and students alike. Certain rights protect students during school searches.

Your child always has the right to refuse a search from both school officials and police officers. If a search is taking place, he or she should verbally state that the search is taking place without consent. However, your child should not use physical force to stop a search.

A school official cannot search your child without reasonable suspicion. The intensity of the search should be proportional to the suspected act and be appropriate for your child’s age. Under no circumstances can a school official strip search your child.

While school searches are a means of protecting a school environment, school personnel may target certain students for unfair or unfounded reasons. If your child is the target of a school search and is found to be in possession of drugs or weapons, suspension, expulsion, and other legal action may follow. In these cases, it is vital to have a skilled defense attorney on your side to tell your child’s story and build a strong defense case.