The Searching of Students’ Electronic Devices by School Administrators: The New Normal

School districts all over the country are scrambling to keep up with the burdensome task of regulating the use of electronic devices by students inside their school zones.  From Smartphones to iPads to laptops, these personal items have a reduced expectation of privacy inside a school zone and may be subject to search and confiscation.

In today’s world, a school’s best friend lies in the clarity of its search and seizure policy for these types of devices.  When formulating such a policy, there are some key areas to consider:

  • Define the Intent of Your Search:  The search is normally triggered by an administrator’s reasonable suspicion of a school violation generated by a student’s misuse of the device;
  • The Scope of Your Search:  It is incumbent upon administrators to set the parameters for each individual search so that it is directly tied to the suspected school violation;
  • Confiscation:  It is critical for schools to lay out the reasons for confiscating the device and for how long the device will be kept short of returning it to the parent;
  • Police Intervention:  Policy should cover those circumstances wherein potential criminal activity discovered by the school search of a device warrants police notification;
  • Legal Notice:  Policy should also contain a requirement that the school communicate to the parent and the student that the possession of a personal electronic device within the school zone is a privilege, not a right.

More often than not, it is the lack of a clear and uniformly applied policy that creates liability exposure for schools, not necessarily the search and seizure procedures that are carried out.  With the ever-changing landscape of how electronic devices are utilized in school zones, administrators need to make a continuing effort to adjust their policies in order to strike a balance between the unnecessary invasion of privacy and maintaining a school’s ability and right to effectively deal with electronic device violations.

Obviously, schools should draft these policies in accordance with the regulations of their district and applicable state law.