With the rise in school shootings and the problem of students bringing drugs into schools, student searches have become more prevalent. It's a preventative measure designed to protect students, faculty, and staff. There is, however, a fine line between security and infringing upon the rights of students. School administrators and even the police cannot just search at will, students K-12 or in college. Every student is protected by the Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches. As faculty and administrators have a duty to provide a safe learning environment, this protection tends to be somewhat diminished. School officials need to balance security needs with student's rights.
In K-12 public schools, the vast majority of students are minors whose parents have a right to give or not give consent to searches on their children's behalf. Due to the increase in school violence, the law is sometimes interpreted to give the power of guardianship to school officials while minor students are on school grounds. A Supreme Court ruling in 1985 upheld the application of the Fourth Amendment to students in school and stated that restrictions against searches should be eased in a school environment. It adds up to a murky interpretation that is often problematic.
Circumstances that Allow Searches
Just as with adults, school officials are allowed to conduct a search if there is reasonable suspicion of a felony. The word “reasonable” is sometimes loosely applied.
For a police officer or other law enforcement official to conduct a student search, they must have probable cause to do so. This goes beyond mere suspicion and reaches the standard that a crime is likely being committed. The school or law enforcement officials may search any student that consents to a search.
Random searches such as metal detectors in entrances or drug-sniffing dogs are legal as they are considered random and a preventative measure.
Student searches on college campuses are different from K-12 schools as most of the students are not minors and are treated legally as adults. Students who live in dorms are in a unique situation. As the dorm buildings are the school's property, residents have less privacy and fewer rights than tenants of off-campus housing. Campus police and your resident advisor are permitted to enter your room to search without your permission. Generally, this is limited to a visual search, and they are not allowed to go through drawers, closets, or personal belongings.
Living in a dorm can result in a search you do not consent to unfortunately. You may find yourself facing a hearing board. This can be intimidating and can damage your academic career. You need representation. Contact the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience and skill to represent you and see that your rights are upheld. He's a fighter who wins for his clients.