The fourth amendment stops police and other government officials from searching us and our property without probable cause (this includes students). The school can only search you if they have probable cause that you have violated a law or school rules. In the Supreme Court case, New Jersey v. T.L.O., a vice principal discovered marijuana in a student’s purse while searching for cigarettes. The court ruled that students do have Fourth Amendment rights to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. School officials don’t need the normal standard of probable cause to justify searches, a lower standard of “reasonableness, under all the circumstances” is enough. School lockers are considered the schools property and can be searched within the school’s discretion.
What you can do if confronted about a search at school:
- If you’re stopped by a police officer at your school, try and stay calm. Don’t argue, resist or otherwise interfere with the officer. You can always ask, “Am I free to leave?” If the answer is yes, calmly walk away.
- You have the right to remain silent if you’re questioned by a school resource officer or a school official.
- You can refuse to give your consent to be searched by the police. This may not stop the search, but this is a way to protect your rights if you go to court.
- Don’t consent to a phone search. Police need a warrant to search your phone.
- Don’t consent to a strip search. No police officer or school employee has the authority to strip-search you. Strip searches are illegal in many states.
- Drug and alcohol tests are considered searches. Student athletes can be tested for drugs at any time because athletic programs are voluntary.