Student Searches

K-12 Law School Series

Student Searches
Marilyn Gardner, a lawyer, spent years teaching Advanced School Law at the university doctoral level. Her focus was court decisions at all levels of government which have had an impact on the governance of schools and what school personnel can do in terms of the operation of schools, curriculum, instruction, assessment and school personnel, and treatment of candidates. Marilyn Gardner, Lawyer, would always stress that failure to comply with school law can have far-reaching and costly implications.
The K-12 School Law Series curriculum focuses on the Pearson Educational Leadership Series books which focus on the major areas of school litigation and promotes an understanding of the principles of law that guide the governance and operations of schools while equipping school authorities with appropriate knowledge, skills and disposition to fulfill their obligations to school-aged youngsters.
In her research, she identified four Pearson Educational Leadership Series books
( that are valuable resources on these topics. They cover many facets of K-12 School Law and are important resources to empower school administrators and staff.
They are:
● Law and Ethics in Educational leadership, David Stader ISBN: 978-0-13-268587-0
● School Law and the Public Schools, Nathan Essex, ISBN: 978-0-13-707275-0
● A Teacher’s Pocket Guide to School Law, Nathan Essex, ISBN: 978-0-13-335191-0
● School Law: Cases and Concepts, Michael W. LaMorte, ISBN:978-0-13-707247-7
Pearson’s resources ( focus on the major areas
of school-related litigation and the implications of court rulings for school leaders, teachers as well as the related changes in policy affecting the school environment. School staff will be empowered to deal in legally defensible ways with school- and community-based situations and remain current with school-related law and policy.
Student Searches
Pearson Educational Leadership Series
●Sample Scenarios from:

Law and Ethics in Educational leadership, David Stader

(ISBN: 978-0-13-268587-0) and School Law and the Public Schools, Nathan Essex,

ISBN: 978-0-13-707275-0
Today we are going to explore the issue Conducting Student Searches. Generally, students in public school are protected against unreasonable search and seizure as ensured by the Fourth Amendment. The 1969 case State v. Stein determined that a students’ freedom from unreasonable search and seizure must be balanced against the need to maintain order and protect the safety and health of students. In the ruling, judges determined that school officials did not need to have evidence to prove probable cause nor secure a warrant like the police. Instead, school officials are held only to a standard of
reasonable suspicion.
It is important for school leaders to understand the conditions determining when the reasonable suspicion standard has been reached making a search permissible.
The Case of the Police Tip
You are the principal of a high school. One morning you receive a phone call from a local police officer. The police received a tip from a community member and parent in your school that a specific student was seen exchanging money for a bag of a “suspicious white power” with an adult at one of your bus stops this morning. The police officer indicated that he did not have enough evidence to secure a warrant to search the student but asked if you could conduct a search.
This particular student had a history of drug use at school and had been suspended for a drug infraction in the past. As a result, you called the student into your office and noticed that their eyes were dilated and they seemed to slur their speech. You asked them to empty their pockets and remove their shoes. In the student’s sock, you found a bag with white powder. At that point, you contacted the police and they arrived at the school.
You turned over the contraband to the police and the student was arrested and taken away in handcuffs. You then contacted the student’s parents about the incident. The parents were very angry and threaten to sue you for conducting an illegal search and “illegally handing over the contraband to the police”. Let’s legally review this scenario by answering the following four questions.
Question 1:
Was the search of the student legal?
Let’s look at what the Fourth Amendment says about legal searches in public schools? What does case law say about legal searches in public schools? Was the tip from the police reasonable? Was the tip from the police enough to conduct the search?
The correct answer is yes. The 1985 case New Jersey v. T. L. O., Supreme Court of the United States ruled that public school searches could be conducted if a school official has reasonable suspicion that a search is warranted. The reason to suspect is a less rigorous requirement than the standard of “probable cause” required by police officers.
Suspicion implies an opinion based on some facts but does not amount to evidence that shows proof. Probable cause required by the police to obtain a warrant to conduct a search was clearly delineated as requiring more than mere suspicion as defined in the description by James Madison in the Fourth Amendment where “legal and sufficient cause” for issuing a warrant of search is required.
Case law has established that a student’s freedom from unreasonable search must be balanced with the schools need to protect students health and safety, and thus, a lower standard of evidence exist. The T.L.O. case helped determine the definition of reasonable suspicion including a need for evidence, which is collected beforehand to determine that a search of a particular student for a particular illegal item is warranted at the inception of the search.
In other words, the measures of the search must be reasonably related to the objective of the search. A search is not reasonable if it lacks specificity as defined by the previously collected evidence. It should also be noted that a search need not produce the suspected illegal contraband, only that the standard of reasonable suspicion be met prior to the inception of the search.
Question 2:
Was it illegal for the principal to work with the police in a search as described in this case study?
Let’s look at What the case law says about police versus school involvement in a search? Was it important for the principal to conduct the search or could the principal had given permission for law enforcement to conduct the search? Is the timing of police involvement critical? The answer is no. Case law makes it clear that a school search instigated and conducted by the police must be accompanied by a search warrant. However, the principal, in this case, had physical evidence and prior student history of drug use that in combination established reasonable suspicion to conduct the search.
The phone tip from the police added additional evidence to conduct the search; however, the source of the tip is not germane to the case. Namely, the call could have come from anyone and combined with the existing evidence, warranted the principal’s search.
Upon conducting the search and finding illegal contraband, it was then appropriate for the principal to contact the police, turn over the illegal substances, and cooperate in the police report.

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