Protection against being subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures is provided to all American citizens by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Students, as citizens, get to enjoy that right also. School officials are less limited than police with respect to searches, and do not have to procure a warrant or a probable cause to initiate a search. They can conduct a search based on the presence of reasonable suspicion.
With the increasing need to address issues such as the elimination of drugs and weapons, laws with respect to search and seizure have become more diversified. Newer means of detection of banned items have emerged, which has made search and seizure more complicated. On the whole, a search by school officials can be justified as long the following guidelines are adhered to:
· The school employee has to have reasonable grounds to conduct the search and the circumstances have to justify the action at its inception.
· The authorities conducting the search have to be careful about the reasonableness of their actions in terms of the situation and the age and gender of the students.
· For any search to take place, a reasonable basis of suspicion against the student must exist. Mere doubts do not give the license to the school authorities to conduct searches.
· The routine search of lockers and desks is acceptable and can be made to be a part of the normal procedure. It should be school policy that parents are informed beforehand of these searches.
· The more invasive a search, the stronger the probable cause should be.
Authorities must also take certain precautions when conducting a search. For example, a male official cannot conduct a physical inspection of a female student as that could amount to sexual harassment. If backed by a reasonable cause, searching students’ purses, book bags, lockers, packages and automobiles parked on school property is completely acceptable.
But in the absence of strong suspicion, any search, or strip-search is utterly unacceptable. Personal searches are required to be carried out in private, and by the officials of the same gender. Also, the provision of alternate clothing for the accused while the search is being carried out is a must. The use of “sniffer dogs” when a reasonable suspicion exists that a student is carrying drugs, is allowed.