Empowering Schools to Search

The Effect of Growing Drug and Violence Concerns on American Schools

America's public schools are facing a crisis of violence and drug problems. In particular, several recent high-profile school shootings have provided a wake-up call to school administrators and state legislators across the country. Schools are responding to increased school violence and drug use with a variety of preemptive security measures designed to ensure that American schools remain a safe place for children. This student note evaluates these school measures in the context of students' Fourth Amendment rights. Although many states have enacted statutes empowering school boards to search students, the constitutionality of such searches remains unclear. Student searches are typically justified as consistent with a lower expectation of privacy for students, valid under an implied consent rationale, or accepted as a standard automobile search. The author questions the applicability of these justifications to schools, suggesting that they not only give schools unnecessarily broad authority but also send a message of distrust and lack of individual rights to students. The author proposes that differences among communities make it imperative that states give educators latitude to respond to their specific problems rather than create overbroad mandates. In this way, legislators and school administrators can create an atmosphere more conducive to learning and not teach the wrong lesson by depriving students of their constitutionally protected rights.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.