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

In today's post, we'll conclude our ongoing efforts to demonstrate how Fourth Amendment protections in a public school setting are more restricted than both parents and students would perhaps care to imagine.

To recap, school officials need only demonstrate "reasonable suspicion" to justify a search, and the courts use a two-part test to determine whether this was present. 

Having already examined the first element of this test -- the search was justified at its inception -- today's post will focus on the second element -- the search was reasonably related in scope to its objectives.

Reasonably related in scope

In general, a student search is considered "reasonably related in scope" if the actions taken by school officials are sensibly linked (i.e., reasonably related) to the reason for the search, and not unduly intrusive given the nature of the alleged infraction and the student's age and gender.

By way of example, if a school official has a reasonable suspicion that a student is carrying a weapon in a purse or small bag, the search must be limited to those parts of the purse or small bag that are large enough to hold something as large as a weapon in order to be considered reasonably related in scope.

If the school official extends their search of the purse or small bag to include a tiny pocket or pouch that could not possibly accommodate a weapon only to discover a small bag of marijuana, such a search would exceed the reasonable scope of the search. Indeed, one state appellate court classified such actions as an illicit "scavenger hunt."

If your child has been suspended or expelled under circumstances that you have reason to question, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can conduct the necessary examination and fight to enforce your child's rights.

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