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Student Searches in Schools

Juvenile students have Fourth Amendment rights, and possibly rights under a state constitution’s privacy clauses, but those rights are diminished in a school setting.

By
Michael W. Flynn
October 17, 2008

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First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.

Today’s topic is searching juvenile students in a public school.

Brady wrote:

If a school teacher or administrator asks to search your backpack or bag what rights do you have assuming that you are under 18.

Thanks Brady. This question essentially asks what a juvenile student’s Fourth Amendment rights are in a public school setting.

The short answer is that juvenile students have Fourth Amendment rights, and possibly rights under a state constitution’s privacy clauses, but those rights are diminished in a school setting. Courts will weigh the student’s expectation of privacy against the school’s need to maintain a safe learning environment. A teacher may conduct the search where it is reasonable under all the circumstances, and the reasonableness standard takes many factors into consideration.

Before getting to the meat of the question of when a search at a school is reasonable, it is necessary to address two preliminary points: warrants and consent.

First, a school is not required to get a warrant to search a student. In a seminal case on juvenile searches in schools, the Supreme Court reasoned that schools need “swift and informal disciplinary procedures” in order to ensure a safe environment that is conducive to learning. The Court held that the school’s need for quick discipline would be frustrated if a teacher had to get a warrant every time a student needed to be searched.

Second, you may waive your rights by consenting to a search.

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