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Understanding the law as it relates to student searches -- II

In a previous post, our blog began discussing how even though the protection provided by the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures applies in the public school setting, this protection is perhaps more limited in scope that people might realize.

Specifically, we discussed how Florida courts have long held that school officials conducting student searches need only demonstrate "reasonable suspicion" and have articulated a two-part test to determine if it indeed existed.

This two-part test mandates that the search of the student must be 1) justified at its inception and 2) reasonably related in scope to the justification for the search.

Justified at its inception

In general, a student search is considered to be "justified at its inception" if reasonable grounds exist to believe that it will uncover evidence of illegal conduct or violations of school regulations. This means school officials must rely on more than just their intuition to justify their intrusion, but actually draw rational inferences based on specific and articulable facts.

In making the determination, courts will examine a host of factors, just one of which may prove dispositive, including:

  • The age, school record and disciplinary history of the student
  • The seriousness and prevalence of the issue motivating the search, and the experience of school officials dealing with the issue
  • The existence of circumstances necessitating the search to be undertaken without delay
  • The reliability and probative value of the information used as justification for the search
  • The individual school official's experience with the student

Some examples of student searches that would not be justified at their inception would include:

  • Searching a student who passed out in front of a school official because of alleged drug use
  • Searching a student on the basis on them "not acting" like himself or herself, appearing to be "on something" and/or having bloodshot eyes
  • Searching a student who hides a purse or bag upon being startled by a sudden encounter with a school official  

We'll continue discussing this important topic in a future post, examining the second element of the two-part reasonable suspicion test.

Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options if your child has been suspended or expelled under circumstances that you have reason to question.

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