Can school employees search students?
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UPDATED: Feb 6, 2020
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Schools and school employees are allowed to search students within reason, and conduct reasonable searches and seizures of school property and the personal property of juvenile and adult students. Student searches may be conducted on school grounds or at school activities, including off-campus field trips.
When it comes to student searches, the rules that govern schools are set by the school district, or the school itself. The rules regarding searches vary considerably. Some schools allow school employees to search students and students’ property for any reason. Other schools require that there be a reasonable suspicion that the student has broken a rule of the school in order to search the student. In order to search students, a search and seizure must be related to the infraction.
School employees are not allowed to search students without reason. Unreasonable student searches may include body cavity searches and the search of a student’s vehicle if the vehicle is located off campus and is not being used for a school activity. The line between reasonable and unreasonable student searches is undefined. Private schools, especially schools for students with behavioral problems or mental illnesses, may have different, stricter rules in order to search students, than public schools.
Students may give their voluntary consent to searches. If a student gives his or her consent to have their person and property searched, the student has no expectation of privacy. Typically, students have no expectation of privacy in property that is loaned to them by the school. This includes desks, textbooks, school lockers, school computers, and common areas such as sports equipment rooms. These areas are open to student searches.
Recently, defense attorneys have contested actions by school employees to search students after being directed to do so by a law enforcement officer. Evidence that results from this type of search may be inadmissible, depending on the facts of the case. If a law enforcement officer conducts a lawful arrest of a student at school or off-campus during a school activity, they may search and seize pertinent school property, they may search the student, and they may search the student’s personal property.