This year, the Harlan Institute partnered with our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute to offer a BRI Badge. For this badge, students considered whether the Fourth Amendment places any limitations on a school’s power to search students (including their backpacks and cell phones).
Check out some of the best posts written by students that received the badge:
One student remarked on the reasonable suspicion standard necessary to search students in schools:
The question being asked involves having reasonable suspicion that a student is communicating with someone else (whether it be with another student or not) about selling drugs. A school should still not have the right under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution to search that particular student’s phone. This Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” If a school authority is truly and reasonably suspicious that a student is using their cell phone or other electronic device during school hours to communicate with another person about selling drugs, said school authority should contact a higher authority (i.e., the police) and obtain a proper warrant to seize and search the student’s device. The Fourth Amendment protects such searches and seizures from happening without “probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation”, and that right should not be violated.
Another student drew a conceptual distinction between searching a backpack, and searching a cell phone:
Searching a person’s phone and searching a person’s backpack are two totally different things. A backpack is used for school supplies and things you would need during a school day. A phone is a personal connection to other people that doesn’t have anything to do with school. A phone allows us to communicate about and with out of school people and things. What is on phones is personal.
Another student focused on the Supreme Court’s holding in Safford United School District # 1 v. Redding, which concerned a strip search of a student who had was suspected of having ibuprofen:
In the Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding I think they went way over board on a girl having ibuprofen on her in school grounds. They didn’t need to go that far when ibuprofen is legal to have and the girl was only 13 years old. They did not need to strip search her for an ibuprofen tablet. I don’t necessarily think that random drug test follow the fourth amendment they don’t have probable cause to search people or test them for drugs. I don’t necessarily think its a bad idea but I can see where people would want to deny the test because of their rights. They shouldn’t have to get tested unless the person testing has a cause to do so. Student athletes should be tested for drugs in case they are using them in a way that could better their skills while playing that sport. They should be notified that if they are going to play the sport they are probably going to get tested and that if they don’t want to be tested they shouldn’t try out for the sport. So I think that the fourth amendment does allow schools to look at your phone under certain circumstances. There is also a fine line as to what circumstances are just and which ones aren’t.
A student drew a distinction between searching students who participate in extra-curricular activities (in the form of drug testing) and those who do not engage in such activities:
If a school wants to drug test students who want to participate in extra curricular activities, they can have students take them. Because the extra curricular activities are extra and not a have to do like attending school. When a student chooses to be in activities beyond just school, they have to follow a good conduct code. Students represent a school and how the system works. When there are drug tests in the student athletes, that prevents those students from taking drugs because they do not want to lose their spot on the varsity line up. A majority of students are apart of one extra curricular activity or another. The Fourth Amendment protects students from a random search. But if say, a drug dog comes onto campus, and detects drugs, that is probable cause to be searched.
Congratulations to all of the students who participated.