Cell Phone Searches Unconstitutional

News
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 - 2:22pm

Student advocates say schools don't have the authority to search cell phone contents.

They're college students now, but Brittany Van Wagner and Amanda Efron say the worst lesson they ever got at Florida's Boca Raton High School was a lesson in humiliation when school officials searched the contents of their cell phones.

"She forced me into giving my pass-code," said Efron.

"They went through all of my text messages, all of my personal pictures, all my videos, they went through everything right in front of me," said Van Wagner.

The National Youth Rights Movement got wind, and fired off a letter to the principal demanding that a passage in the school handbook that says students are responsible for the content in their phones be stricken.

They don't question a school's right to confiscate phones when they're distracting students, but say Boca High's policy leaves the door open to violations of the 4th Amendment's protection of unreasonable searches.

"Even when protecting children as the object, the constitutional limits on government must be upheld," said Jeffrey Nadel of the Youth Rights Association.

Legal analyst Michelle Suskauer agrees, and puts it this way: Searches of a student's locker is OK, because that's school property.

But searching a cell phone? You're going to need a warrant for that.

"I think that the school is going to have a very hard time defending that policy," said Suskauer.

Nadel says even beyond the law, even beyond the humiliation that Amanda and Brittany felt, the school has a responsibility to set an example.

"If we infringe upon young people's rights in school, they will not defend those rights as adults," said Nadel.

The district says it wasn't aware of Boca High's policy, but that it has already been reviewing the district's cell phone policy.

Without a chance to review the school's specific policy in detail, the chair of the school board indicates the school might need to change it.

"Any search of a student's phone should be done by the police and after reasonable suspicion is established that a crime has been committed," said chair Frank Barbieri.
 

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