ELS 657: Public School Law
Dr. Mark Lineburg 11/28/12
Students in today’s schools are often concerned that their constitutional rights are being violated by teachers and administrators. Specifically, they are concerned that their privacy is being violated when there are random classroom searches. Upon reviewing relevant court cases and judicial documents it is clear that what students perceive as violation of their rights is well within the rights of school officials. While in school, the safety and wellbeing of the students becomes the responsibility of the adults therein. The role of parent is assumed by the teachers and administrators, and the court acknowledges that with this role parental rights are given. Random search and seizure is constitutionally valid if the end is to protect and keep the students safe at school.
Newport News Public Schools often allow their administrators and school’s resource officers to conduct random classroom searches of students’ back packs and personal items. During these searches personal items are searched and items can be confiscated. For this scenario, while performing a random classroom search the school’s resource officer, acting as a school agent, discovers, in her backpack, a student’s cell phone, which is not powered off, and seizes the item. The student was not using the technology in class; however, Newport News Public School policy states that all phones are to be powered off during school hours. The parent will now be required to drive to the school to pick up the student’s cell phone, and both student and parent will sign a contract indicating that a second confiscation of the student’s cell phone will result in a five day hold before retrieval.
Question of Law
Is the school allowed to search students and their personal property randomly without reasonable cause or is this a violation of the students’ rights under the Fourth Amendment?
Can personal property be seized during random searches or is this also an impediment on students’ Fourth Amendment rights?
Cases Well over 20 years ago, in the state of New Jersey, there was a case brought before the US Supreme court that help to create the norms of public school search and seizures. The case was New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1984). In brief, this case involved a high school girl who had her purse searched after she had been caught smoking in the restroom. T.L.O was taken to the vice principal’s office and when asked whether she was smoking denied that she smoked, and went on to add that she never smoked. The administrator asked to search her purse and upon doing so discovered not only cigarettes, but also a pack of rolling papers. Experience had taught him that where there were rolling papers there was also often marijuana. His closer inspection, and deeper digging, confirmed his suspicions. The administrator found money and what appeared to be a customer list, and decided to hand the evidence over to the police. While with the police, T.L.O. confessed to selling drugs at her high school. The state of New Jersey then brought delinquency charges against her. However, in the end T.L.O. argued that the evidence used against her should be thrown out due to the improper search and violation of her Fourth Amendment rights by the school’s vice principal citing the exclusionary rule. The lower courts of New Jersey found no violation of the student’s rights. It was only at the state Supreme Court level that the search and seizure violation was questioned. From there her case went before the United States Supreme Court, and their ruling favored the vice principal and set a precedence for public schools and students’ Fourth Amendment rights.
School District Policy
The Newport News Public Schools’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook discusses the students’ rights and responsibilities as well general information…