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Section 2 - Section 2 School Management Issues Search And...

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Section 2: School Management Issues Search And Seizure: The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to be free from unreasonable searches. The Fourth amendment also applies to student searches because school officials act as representatives of the government and not as parental surrogates. A search is justified if reasonable grounds exist to think that the search will reveal evidence that school rules were violated. The scope of a search must be limited according to a student's age, gender, and the type of offense. School officials may search a student based on reasonable suspicion and not probable cause. A student's right to privacy is balanced against the school's responsibility to provide a safe learning environment. But what constitutes reasonable suspicion? Here are some general examples: The odor of cigarette smoke does not provide reasonable suspicion to search all students in a school bathroom. However, if one student is caught smoking, his backpack and pockets may be searched. A report by a student that another student has a weapon at school provides reasonable suspicion to search that student and his locker. A group of students exchanging money, without more, does not provide reasonable suspicion (of a drug transaction). However, even an anonymous report that a student will be bringing alcohol or drugs to school provides reasonable suspicion to search (purse, pockets, locker). Note: The presence of law enforcement officers at a school while a search is conducted does NOT require a showing of probable cause (v. reasonable suspicion). However, if the law enforcement officer conducts the search, probable cause may be required. The same holds true for school officials acting as agents of the police. For example, the police may ask a school administrator to do a search for them, since a warrant will not be required. Consent: Voluntary consent by a student allows a search even when reasonable suspicion or probable cause are lacking. The search can only extend as far as the student specified. For example, permission to search a locker does not extend to a purse carried by the student, or her pockets. Consent must be given freely without coercion, and the police may not ask a school official to influence a student to consent to a search. Note: While an unconstitutional search of a student may reveal evidence of wrongdoing, it may still be used as evidence at a school disciplinary hearing, but not in a criminal trial. An unlawful search may lead to a law suit, however, if it was wrongfully conducted. A student may sue under Civil Rights Section 1983, 42 U.S.C.A. for damages. This Act applies to school officials who knowingly, willingly, or maliciously act to deprive a student of constitutional rights.
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