BY ZOE MILLS, JUNIOR EDITOR
The 4th Amendment is beneficial to students of all ages for many reasons. None of those reasons, however, involves protecting students from the personal agendas of teachers, or creating strict boundaries between students and faculty that enable students to immediately keep what they desire private. The 4th Amendment is flawed, ambiguous, and constantly changing, which is not helpful in the grand scheme of deciding what is truly ‘off-limits’ to the peeping eyes of teachers and adults.
There are two rules that apply specifically in schools under this amendment, the first being that if a teacher or faculty member is going to seize and search an item, what they’re looking for must be reasonable upon inception, meaning right at the beginning of the conflict. The second rule is that searches and seizures must be reasonable in their scope, meaning that students cannot be put through outrageous searches that don’t pertain to the charges they are being investigated under. For example, if a student realizes their phone is missing during 7th period, the teacher cannot contain all students in that classroom and conduct a strip search. It would be unclear whether the phone was lost or stolen, and it would be impossible to know when in the day the phone went missing.
These two rules can be perceived in many different lights. On one hand, they leave a lot of room for students to protect themselves and their privacy, and to create a strong enough argument to possibly deflect the violation of their person and belongings. But on the other hand this ‘two-prong rule’, as it is known, is quite ambiguous and often misleads students about the reality of their right to privacy, and teachers about their level of their authority.
The reasoning for such unspecific requirements is so that teachers, faculty, and staff will all be able to look after the safety of students and employees without fearing that they might go to jail for violating a student’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The idea is that if schools decrease students’ rights and reasonable expectation of privacy in school, the stakes aren’t as high regarding public safety and lawsuits.
However, this policy comes with a lengthy list of consequences. Some would say that students are safer in such a setting, but the reality is that teachers have more leeway to validate their searches of students’ backpacks, lockers, cars, and, least favorably, cell phones.
Impersonating a student on their cellular device is not only unethical, but illegal. But if a teacher has reasonable suspicion of a dangerous or illegal student conduct through a cellular device, coupled with the student’s history of such poor conduct, teachers and administrators are then allowed to search texts, contacts, emails, photos, and virtually all nooks and crannies of a student’s phone. There is nothing preventing a teacher from obtaining private information about a student that they would otherwise never have known, and possibly using it later in any given context.
Such searches and seizures are protected by the notion that they are for the greater good of a school’s student body, but what happens when a student and teacher don’t necessarily get along? Does the ambiguity of this amendment make it easier for teachers to fulfill personal vendettas against students? Does it make it easier for them to fulfill such vendettas with little evidence, but room enough for them to argue for reasonable suspicion?
Questions like these have been at the forefront of almost all cases regarding in-school searches and seizures, and still continue to cause conflicts in schools across the nation. Every situation is different, but that is no reason for students to not know their rights, or to feel as though they don’t have any power over themselves or their belongings in school.
While students cannot legally refuse searches in school, they can refute them with the school board, or, in extreme situations, in court. The 4th Amendment does not always work in students’ favor, but one thing it does allow is room for students to defend themselves and negate any evidence obtained from an unreasonable in-school search or seizure.
There is room to move around in the 4th Amendment, and however small that room may be, all students should know their right to use it.
GRAPHIC BY MASON STRAZZELLA, VISUAL CONTENT EDITOR