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Understanding the law as it relates to student searches

Thanks to everything from the daily news to popular media, most people have a general understanding of how the law works in relation to searches conducted by law enforcement officials. Namely, that they have to have probable cause and secure a warrant beforehand.

While it's true that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlaws unreasonable searches and seizures, does indeed dictate that law enforcement officials are generally bound by these legal constraints, it's important to understand that things are somewhat different in the public school system.

Given the truly exceptional nature of the school environment, and the need to balance the individual student's expectation of privacy against the academic institution's need to maintain a safe and suitable learning environment, courts have exempted public schools from the aforementioned requirements.

Indeed, Florida courts have long held that when conducting student searches, school officials do not need a warrant and need only show that the search was motivated by "reasonable suspicion," meaning they believed it would turn up some evidence of illegal conduct or violations of school regulations.

Furthermore, it's been long established that the issue of whether a search is reasonable weighs heavily in favor of the school when it's undertaken for the purposes of student safety.

As to what actually constitutes "reasonable suspicion," the courts have articulated a two-part test, which declares 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.

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

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

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