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Search and Seizure

in Public Schools

William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

• Fourth Amendment to the United States

• “The right of the people to be secure in their
persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated and no Warrants shall issue, but upon
probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation,
and particularly describing the place to be
searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Basis cont
• Fifth Amendment to the United States
Constitution (Due Process) – school
officials who plan to discipline a student or
employee must first provide the alleged
wrong-doer with

• Specific information about the charges and

the evidence behind it

• A chance to tell his or her side of the story
• “The challenge for school districts and
the courts is to balance students’
constitutional rights with the need for
safety and preventing violence or
disregard for school rules (
School Specific Situations
• Drug testing students in extracurricular
• Drug-sniffing dogs on campus
• Locker searches and metal detectors
• Backpacks, wallet, and personal computer
• Searching a student’s car in the parking lot
Court Precedents
• New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)

• “The purse of a female high school student

was searched upon suspect of her
smoking in girls’ school restroom.
Student denied the incident. Her purse
was searched by a school administrator
who uncovered not only cigarettes, but
also marijuana and writings indicating the
student had been selling marijuana
(Lacroix, 2008).”
• School officials act as representatives of
the state, not merely as surrogates for

• School setting requires some easing of the
restrictions to which searches by public
authorities are ordinarily subject

• “Neither the warrant requirement nor the probable
cause standard is appropriate

• Simple reasonableness governs all searches of
students’ persons and effects by school

• “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 (caselaw.lp.findlaw)”
Supreme Court Ruling in
New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)

• “Today’s public school officials do not

merely exercise authority voluntarily
conferred on them by individual
parents; rather they act in furtherance
of publicly mandated educational and
disciplinary policies.”
• “School searches must be reasonably related in
scope to the circumstances justifying the
interference, and “not excessively intrusive in
light of the age and sex of the student and the
nature of the infraction (caselaw.lp.findlaw)”
Court Precedent:
Strip Searches
• Board v. Whitmore Lake School

• Female student reported $364 missing

from her gym bag during PE class. In
response, teachers searched the entire
class in their locker rooms. Boys were
required to undress down to their
underwear, girls were required to do the
same in front of each other. No money
was found.
Sixth Court of Appeal Ruling
The Board v. Whitmore Lake School
• Strip Search Unreasonable
• Recovery of money was primary basis for
search, which did not pose a threat to
health or safety
• Search involved a large group of students
who did not consent to the search
• School personnel had no reason to
suspect any of the students individually
• “Strip searches should be avoided
except under extreme circumstances
involving health and safety of other
students (Essex, 2005).”
Drug Testing
• In his 2004 State of the Union Address,
President Bush stated

• “I propose an additional 23 million dollars for

schools that want to use drug testing as a tool to
save children’s lives. The aim here is not to
punish children, but to send this this message:
We love you, and don’t want to lose you.”
• “Random, suspicionless drug testing
of public school students will
distance students from school
personnel as long as it remains in the
school’s arsenal (Lacroix, 2008).”
Court Precedent
Random Drug Testing
• Vernonia v. Acton (1995)
• Vernonia teenagers became noticeably
attracted to the “drug culture” and student
drug use was on the rise. Students
boasted “there was nothing the school
could do about it.”
• The Vernonia School District instituted a
policy requiring all student athletes to
submit to random drug testing by
urinalysis in order to play sports

Supreme Court Ruling
• The privacy expectations of public school
students were less than those of the
general public
• Legitimate privacy expectations are even
less with regard to student athletes. An
element of communal undress is inherent
in athletic participation, with open locker
rooms, community showers, and even
doorless toilet stalls
• Athletes subject themselves to
regulation just by signing up for a
team. They have to keep their grades
up, submit to a pre-season physical
exam, and comply with the coach’s
rules, among other things.

• School sports are not for the bashful.
• Voluntary nudity in front of peers, a minor
consequence of athletic participation,
constitutes implied consent to being observed
during the very personal process of urination
by an adult who is present only for that
reason, and whose ultimate purpose is to
perform scientific tests on the urine to discover
if something very major is going on in the
athlete’s private life.
Supreme Court Ruling
on the Character of Intrusion
• The manner in which the samples were taken
was typical of the environment of public
restrooms, and therefore the privacy
interests compromised were neglible.

• The government’s scientific examination of a
citizen’s bodily fluids – is not significant
because the urine is tested only for drugs
and the results given only to a few people.

Board of Education v. Earls (2002)

• The right of a school to randomly test

for drugs in the urine of all students
involved in an extracurricular activity
was upheld.
• “The courts have thus spoken on the
issue, and the war on drugs lawfully
extends to the government’s
collection and scientific inspection of
the bodily fluids of the hockey-
playing, trumpet-blowing, debating,
cheerleading youth of America
(Lacroix, 2008).”
Ingraham v. Wright (1977)
Corporal Punishment
• “The inferior legal status of children
thus explains why students in
schools can be subjected to
searches, violations of free speech,
and corporal punishment much more
frequently than adults are (Lewis,

• 27 states currently sanction corporal

• Essex, N. L. (2005). Student privacy rights involving strip searches.
Education and the Law, 17(3), 105-110.
• Lacroix, T. (2008). Student drug testing: the blinding appeal of in
loco parentisand the importance of state protection of student
rights. 2, 251-2790.
• Lewis, T. E. (2006). The school is an exceptional space: rethinking
education from the perspective of the biopedagogical.
Educational theory, 56(2), 159-176.
• U.S. constitution: fourth amendment, Findlaw for legal
professionals,retrieved 9/30/08.
• Search and seizure, due process, and public schools. The center for
public education, retrieved 9/30/08.