Student searches/teacher liability
As a band and choir director I take many trips with students. I would like to know MY legal rights when it comes to searching bags etc. of students I suspect of having drugs, alcohol or other illegal substances.
The first important point with this topic is that in your role as band and choir director you are acting as an agent of your school district. Therefore, your legal rights in this area stem from your role as a teacher in a school district. Likewise, your responsibilities in this area and any limitations imposed on searches stem from your role as an agent of the school. As an agent, you should work within your local board's policies and with your administration in this area or any involving your professional responsibilities. To do otherwise may jeopardize the value of the search and the protections extended to you as an agent of the school. It may also place the district at greater risk of liability. For all these reasons, I suggest that you also contact your administration with your questions and concerns. The remainder of this answer is a brief summary of what the courts have said about searching students and their property. You will note that the courts speak of "school rights" and "school officials." It is clear that the responsibility for this area of school life rests squarely with your administration and your board. This is not an exhaustive description of this complicated area of the law. Neither you nor your district should rely exclusively on this answer. I discussed this matter with an attorney who represents school districts and she commented that virtually all district policies on this matter limit the ability to search to administrators and their designated staff. This reinforced the suggestion that you contact the district administration concerning this matter.
"The Fourth Amendment provides that '[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated....' U.S. Const. amend. IV. Although it was once open to debate whether that protection extends to school children the Supreme Court held for the first time in New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985), that searches and seizures conducted on school premises by school officials are governed by the limits of the Fourth Amendment,..." DesRoches v. Caprio, 156 F.3d 571, 129 Ed. L. Rep. 628 "The Supreme Court laid the ground rules for suspicion-based school searches in T.L.O. There, the Court held that the constitutionality of school searches based on individualized suspicion would be evaluated by the two-pronged reasonableness standard .... Pursuant to that standard, the reasonableness of a search is determined by considering first 'whether the ... action was justified at its inception' ... and second, 'whether the search as actually conducted was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place'..." DesRoches, supra "The Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials and is not limited to searches carried out by law enforcement officers. Nor are school officials exempt from the Amendment's dictates by virtue of the special nature of their authority over schoolchildren. In carrying out searches and other functions pursuant to disciplinary policies mandated by state statues, school officials act as representatives of the state, not merely as surrogates for the parents of students, and they cannot claim the parents' immunity from the Fourth Amendment strictures." New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985) "Schoolchildren have legitimate expectations of privacy. They may find it necessary to carry with them a variety of legitimate, noncontraband items, and there is no reason to conclude that they have necessarily waived all rights to privacy in such items by bringing them onto school grounds. But striking the balance between schoolchildren's legitimate expectations of privacy and the school's equally legitimate need to maintain an environment in which learning can take place requires some easing of the restrictions to which searches by public authorities are ordinarily subject. Thus, school officials need not obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority. Moreover, school officials need not be held subject to the requirement that searches be based on probable cause to believe that the subject of the search has violated or is violating the law. Rather, the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search. Determining the reasonableness of any search involves a determination of whether the search was justified at its inception and whether, as conducted, it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first place. Under ordinary circumstances the search of a student by a school official will be justified at its inception where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school. And such a search will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the student's age and sex and the nature of the infraction." New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 105 S.Ct. 733, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985) "This court has held that the 'justified at its inception' portion of the T.L.O. standard means that a 'search is warranted only if the student's conduct creates a reasonable suspicion that a particular regulation or law has been violated, with the search serving to produce evidence of the violation.'" Bridgman v. New Trier High School, 128 F.2d 1146, 122 Ed. L.Rep. 94 In C.B. v. Driscoll, 82 F.3d 383, 108 Ed.L.Rep. 1126, a student advised an administrator that C.B. had drugs hidden in his coat. Two administrators removed C.B. from class, advised him that it had been reported that he had drugs on his person, and asked him to empty his pockets, which he did. Two plastic bags which appeared to contain marijuana were removed from the coat. The student argued that the administrators lacked reasonable grounds to conduct a search because no administrator observed him with drugs or acting strangely and that the informant was unreliable. The Court held that the tip "provided sufficient probability, viewed against the 'reasonable grounds' standard, to justify the search here." All of the cases cited referred to having a reasonable suspicion that the student had violated a law or regulation. For this reason it would be necessary for the school to have an established policy that the student and parents have actual knowledge of stating what items/substances students may not have in school or on school sponsored trips. The policy should also detail the procedures for searches of the student and/or the student's possessions, backpack, etc. Because this involves out of town trips the policy should also spell out what actions are taken if the student is found to have items/substances that violate law or school policy.
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