Searching In Schools Essay

1741 words - 7 pages

Searching in Schools

The U.S. Supreme Court and state courts have very gently both bestowed and limited Fourth Amendment rights upon public school students in a series of cases over several decades. Recent cases may indicate that the delicate balance between student rights and school safety procedures is strongly leaning towards the rights of school authorities to actively isolate and reduce perceived causes of school violence. Starting in 1968 and culminating in 1984, the law of the land concerning the status of students compared to school authorities shifted to a more constitutional basis. Prior to that time, student rights in school were defined by the common law doctrine of in loco parentis, which for centuries posited that school officials were given the right, duty, and responsibility to act in the place of a parent. Their right to act included the power to search students for illegal items, or for items merely considered to be prohibited under state or local law or school district policies, without the warrant or probable cause conditions mandated for all other citizens under the Fourth Amendment. State laws, as upheld by their state courts, permitted such school action when, for example, student searches were deemed to be in the best educational interests of all the students. Any search based upon the much lower and non-constitutional standard of right problem was found to be in accord with the doctrine of in loco parentis; it was accepted by the courts as necessary and reasonable in light of public necessity to maintain school discipline and order and the longstanding social concept of the parental powers of school authorities. The searching of students produces a sense of security and safety in schools.

Student locker searches provides security for all students. Most legal authorities state that the validity of locker searches is dependent on the students' reasonable expectations of privacy, which can be affected by school policies appointing the lockers as student or school property, and student notification that the school will conduct periodic searches for contraband or will retain a master key to the locker for spot checks. The theory posits that unless school districts have written and distributed a locker policy to students, students may have a high expectation of privacy and school authorities may have to meet higher constitutional standards to conduct a locker search. The reality is that the courts have rarely found a school locker search they didn't like, as their use of reasonable in light of all the circumstances test has allowed state courts to override whatever expectation of privacy other citizens may have in similar circumstances. There is utter certainty that state law, school district regulations, or written school policies that require schools to maintain charge over lockers and to inform students of this policy in writing will override any student privacy concerns that could theoretically be asserted to...

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