The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees people’s right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and a series of court decisions has laid the groundwork for interpreting what “unreasonable” means when it comes to minors on school grounds, reported the New York Times.
A key question is whether school administrators have more leeway than law enforcement in deciding whether to search students, said Richard S. Vacca, a senior fellow with the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“School folks can’t be deliberately indifferent to something that could be harmful, dangerous or disruptive. They’ve got to do something,” he said. “But how far can they go?”
One influential decision on the subject came from the Supreme Court more than three decades ago. In 1980, a high school student’s purse was searched by a vice principal after she had been accused of smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. The administrator found evidence that she was selling marijuana.
The student took issue with the search, and her case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which decided in 1985 that the search was “not unreasonable.” Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote in an opinion that “students within the school environment have a lesser expectation of privacy than members of the population generally.”
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