How does the Fourth Amendment apply to my child while at school? – Blog

As drugs and weapons infiltrate our nations schools, it is imperative that schoolofficials take the necessary steps to maintain safety and preserve order in your childsschool. With that being said, your child has a right to privacy and school officials mustnot be overzealous in their investigation of alleged violations of school policy. Thefollowing will provide you, as a parent, with a basic understanding of the rights your childhas, as well as the requirements your childs school must adhere to regarding thesearch of his or her person or property while in school.The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects persons fromunreasonable searches and seizures by agents of the government, which includes schoolofficials. [1] The Fourth Amendment provides that, The right of the people to be secure intheir persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause [2] First, wewill discuss your childs Fourth Amendment rights while he or she is at school and theapplicable standard that will allow school administrators to conduct a search. Second, wewill look at the permissible scope of locker and desk searches, searches of personalitems, such as knapsacks and pocketbooks, as well as the use of drug testing, snifferdogs and metal detectors.How does the Fourth Amendment apply to my child while at school?The application of the Fourth Amendment to an in-school search of your child ortheir property differs from the more generally applicable criminal standard. With respect tothe criminal standard, the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement officials to firstdemonstrate that they have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed.This usually means that evidence must be presented to a judge and a warrant must beobtained before law enforcement officials may conduct a search of private property.Unlike the criminal standard, the requirements for conducting a permissible search of yourchild while he or she is in school are somewhat different.The United States Supreme Court has articulated a clear-cut standard that schoolofficials must adhere to when conducting a search of your child or his or her property.First, school officials do not need to obtain a warrant before conducting a search of yourchild or his or her property. [3] The Court reasoned that requiring school officials to obtain awarrant would interfere with their ability to obtain evidence and maintain the informaldisciplinary procedures that schools use to preserve order. [4] Moreover, the need tomaintain safety in the school environment at all times outweighs the warrant requirement.Unlike the criminal standard that requires probable cause, the legal standard setforth by the court for in-school searches by school officials is reasonable, under all of thecircumstances. In determining what is reasonable, the Court has developed a two-foldinquiry before a search may be conducted of your child or his or her property. First, thesearch must be justified at its inception. Second, the search must be permissible in itsscope. [5]

What does justified at inception mean?A school official that conducts a search of your child must have reasonablegrounds for suspecting that the search will reveal evidence demonstrating that your childhas violated or is violating school rules or the law.[6] Here, unlike the probable causestandard requiring probability that a search will produce evidence, school officials usingthe reasonableness standard may conduct a search irrespective of whether it is probablethat a search will reveal evidence of wrongdoing. School administrators, however, mustnot abuse this leniency in conducting a search and must do so with reason and commonsense.[7] This relatively relaxed approach, while justified in deference to the safety of theschool population, pertains only if at the time of the search, school officials hadreasonable suspicion in conducting a search of your child or his or her property.Reasonable suspicion sufficient to satisfy the justified at inception prong can befound in many different ways. For example, if your child is acting in a manner indicatingthat he or she has consumed alcohol or has taken illicit drugs, this will likely be found tobe reasonable. Additional examples include, the smell of alcohol or drugs on your child, orother students informing school officials that your child may be engaging in activityinconsistent with school policy or the law.To justify a search of your child or their property, school officials must have a logicalreason for doing so in order to satisfy the justified at inception requirement. If a schoolofficial is able to demonstrate that school safety concerns were the primary factors forconducting a search, it is likely that the search will be found reasonable.

What does permissible in its scope mean?A search will be found permissible in its scope when the measures that schoolofficials employ in searching your child or their property were reasonably related to theobjective of the search, and that the search was not excessively intrusive in light of theage and sex of your child. [8]First, when conducting a search, school officials must show that the search wasrelated to the object of the search. Therefore, if your child is accused of allegedlypossessing or selling illegal drugs, a more thorough search may be tolerated. On the otherhand, if your child is accused of possessing a bottle of alcohol, a search of herpocketbook or his knapsack may be reasonable, while the removal of clothing would likelybe unreasonable.Second, the search should not invade the legitimate privacy right of your child inrelation to the search. Taking into consideration your childs age and sex, different searchprocedures will be subjectively evaluated. For example, a school was found to haveviolated a thirteen-year old girls Fourth Amendment rights after school officials wereinformed that she allegedly possessed prescription painkillers. Following a search of thegirls knapsack, which revealed no evidence of prescription drugs, she was sent to thenurses office for a strip search, which further revealed no evidence of prescription drugs.Due to its highly intrusive nature, a strip search of your child should only be conductedwhen there is reasonable suspicion of danger or the resort to underwear for hidingevidence of wrongdoing. [9] Conversely, pat-downs are held to be minimally intrusive.Thus, the means used in conducting a search, along with the age and sex of your child,are pertinent factors that school officials must consider before conducting a search ofyour childs person or their property.

[1] New Jersey v. T.LO., 469 U.S. 325 (1985).[2] U.S. Const. Amend. IV.[3] New Jersey v. T.LO., 469 U.S. 325 (1985).[4] Id. at 340.[5] Id. at 341-342.[6] Id. at 342.[7] Id. at 343.[8] Id. at 342.[9] Id. 2643.

If you have questions about any education matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at

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How does the Fourth Amendment apply to my child while at school? - Blog

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