United States citizens have certain rights when it comes to searches. There are some types of searches that are legal, and that seek to protect the individual rights of the citizen. In other situations, searches are illegal.
Unfortunately for your child, they will have more limited rights in school than in the eyes of the law. When a child is at school, the school stands in for you (the parent). This means that the school will make decisions for your child and you don’t necessarily need to consent to certain things such as interrogations with school employees. Some searches that would be illegal for a police officer to perform are acceptable if performed by a school employee. You can learn more about school searches here.
Right to Privacy
A child doesn’t really have a full right to privacy in school. The school can search a child’s locker or their person. There are specific instances in which the school can’t conduct a search, and in those cases they would need to get a search warrant. But usually all they would need is a reasonable basis to search a student.
The school is standing in the shoes of the parents, in loco parentis. This means that they are charged with protecting your child. But, they also have to protect every other student in the school. Because of this, the standard for searches is a lot lower than a normal standard. If the school suspects that your child has drugs in their locker or on their person, and it is substantiated even just a little bit, they’re justified in searching the child. This is because they need to make sure that they are keeping all children in the school safe.
Cell Phone Searches
When it comes to cell phones, searches can also occur. The school official must first have reason to confiscate the cell phone. Typically, if a student violates the cell phone use policy of the school, the seizure is justified. However, the actual search of inside content from a cell phone must be aligned with the initial reason for the seizure.
For example, a teacher is justified in taking a cell phone, due to a student’s policy violation of cell phone use during class. The teacher can then look (but not open) text messages to see at what time they were sent in order to determine if the student was texting during class. Reading the contents of the text messages would be outside of the scope of the teacher’s initial reason for confiscating the phone and searching for the time. If you think that the school took information that they should not have from your child’s phone, you should inform your attorney.
Dealing with Officials
Many times, kids don’t think that they have any other choice but to answer questions from a principal, a dean or even a school resource officer. But the problem is, a principal or a staff member of the school can then tell everything that the child said to the police, if they choose to call the police.
Because the police department wasn’t the one directly interrogating the child, that right to counsel or an attorney doesn’t trigger. But, the police can still find out what the child told the school employee. This is something you must tell your school age child so that they can protect themselves. It is always better to say nothing than to speak to school officials.