The parent of a high school student and a Texas school district are embroiled in a conflict regarding the search of a student’s cell phone. The parent claims that school officials violated his daughter’s constitutional rights by confiscating her cell phone and reviewing her text messages. School officials claim that the search was permissible because the student was suspected to have been involved in possible criminal activity. Specifically, administrators and a school resource officer were investigating allegations of bullying, the “keying” of several student cars, and rumors that a student had brought a gun to campus. Although the parent has not yet filed a lawsuit in this matter, he has demanded $7.5 million in damages and an apology from the school district. He also has requested that the school officials involved in the search be terminated.
This case emphasizes the difficulties inherent in dealing appropriately with students’ use of technology in the school setting. School districts should be sure they have in place widely accessible policies that set forth clear standards for addressing student misconduct, including situations involving technology such as cell phones. The case also highlights the importance of ensuring that school officials understand the circumstances in which they may conduct a search of a student in the school environment. As a general rule, reasonable cause is required before school officials can conduct a student search. Specifically, the search must be reasonable at inception, and the scope of the search must be reasonably related to the purpose of the search and not excessively intrusive. With regard to the scope of the search, school officials must have reasonable cause to believe that the particular location being searched (such as a cell phone) will yield evidence of a violation of school rules and/or the law. To read more about this dispute, please click here.