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Can Teachers Confiscate or Search Students’ Devices in Pennsylvania?

Can Teachers Confiscate or Search Students’ Devices in Pennsylvania?

With the increase in technology over time, the matter of cell phone usage in school has become a valid concern. While most schools impose their own rules about phone use in class, many students continue to check and use their phones anyway. When this happens, teachers often want to take the device away from their students in order to promote better learning. However, it is often wondered if teachers have the right to take a student’s phone and access their personal data. When facing these situations, it is important to understand the basic right of school searches.

Basic Rules for School Searches

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution in the United States protects people from unreasonable search and seizure. Under the decision made in the case of New Jersey v. T.L.O.,  the United States Supreme Court held this standard true for public schools, applying the Fourth Amendment to searches and seizures conducted by school officials. However, teachers are able to search students’ personal belongings under the following circumstances: 

  • The school had a “reasonable suspicion” that the search would turn up evidence of misconduct
  • The extent of the search was related to its purpose and was not “excessively intrusive”

How Do These Rules Apply to Cell Phones?

While the Supreme Court case New Jersey v. T.L.O. took place in 1984, years before students had access to cell phones, it is still used as a guideline for cases today. When facing decisions as to whether or not a school had the right to search a student’s electronic device, this case and the Fourth Amendment are often cited. For example, a case in 2013 a child’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated after his phone was confiscated in class and text messages were read. The court found that the school did not have to search the child’s phone in order to find evidence that the student broke the no-texting rule and there was no information to prove misconduct. 

Simply put, if there is a school rule that phones cannot be used in class, then teachers can enforce the rule by taking a student’s cell phone. However, they cannot keep it forever and are required to explain how the student can get their phone back. In addition to this, it unlawful for a teacher to search students’ cell phones unless under the proper circumstances.

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Anderson, Converse & Fennick is an experienced law firm in York County, Pennsylvania focusing on Education Law, Family Law, Estate Planning, and Civil Litigation matters. If you need a knowledgeable attorney that will effectively represent your interests, contact Anderson, Converse & Fennick today.

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