Student's 4th Amendment Rights: Teacher Patted Down My Child for Missing Cell Phone

Website Provided by

The right to protections from unlawful search and seizure applies to police attempting to search a person and his or her belongings. However, this does not always extend to children in a school who are suspected of theft or other crimes, and privacy rights for these young persons could have limitations that lead parents to confusion or emotional upset.

The school district and officials within the administration are given more power than police in similar circumstances. This provides teachers and principals with the ability to search children, pat them down and seize phones and other disruptive items while they are at school. The rights of the child are diminished when he or she has entered the school building. This is to protect others on the property as well as the child from others. Phones may be confiscated and gone through as well as lockers searched, drug tests administered and pat downs for suspected crimes. While the rights are lessened while in school, constitutional rights are not completely given up.

Studentsí rights are limited when on school property, but they are still protected from unreasonable searches. When applying the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution to these situations, it translates to protections against unreasonable search and seizure of belongings. Police officers need a warrant to search and invade the privacy of a citizen of the country. These rights are afforded when there is a reasonable belief of privacy. However, this does not encompass a school. The ability to apply this Amendment in school situations is limited and restricted based on the circumstances. It may require the services of a lawyer to clear up the confusion.

Standards for Schools in Search and Seizure

The United States Supreme Court kept the Fourth Amendment in application to search and seizure for students in school for reasonable privacy, but there is no need for a warrant when probable cause is met. This permits general searches when there is a reasonable suspicion that evidence may be found when searching and that a school rule has been broken. The extent and purpose of the search is related to the violation and is not excessively intrusive in any way based on the age and gender of the child. These standards are suspended if the student has a loaded gun.

The intrusiveness of the search could lead to violations of these standards set forth by authorities. If a teacher is patting a student down and places his or her hands on areas that are private, this could lead to an investigation. Additionally, this does not give the administration the right to force the child to remove clothing. Any necessary intrusiveness may be accomplished by law enforcement if an illegal act has been committed. However, a pat down is allowed to discover any stolen property. When the rights of the student have been violated, it is important to contact a lawyer for a remedy to the situation and to prevent future incursions of similar actions.

Unreasonable and Intrusive Searches

If a certain student has been targeted by teachers because of his or her dress or behavior, this may not be enough to warrant a reasonable search based on suspicion that rules have been broken or violations of the law have occurred. The only exception deals with weapons such as guns are large blades. When teachers have violated these rules, the parents of the student could take action. However, the burden of proof is on the parents, and the case is weaker if other students corroborate the actions of the teacher in these situations.

Intrusive searches cannot be excessive. If the child is female and the teacher is male, he is not permitted to take certain actions. It is the same for the reverse circumstances. When the student has been forced to take off clothes or hands have been placed in inappropriate areas, this could lead to the parents filing suit against the administration.

Legal Support against the Administration

When it appears that the school administration has not held to reasonable standards of searches and seizure or property, it is necessary to hire a lawyer to pursue action. A lawyer can explain your legal rights and what exceptions may exist. He or she can advise which legal strategies may bring about the desired result. He or she can also explain limitations that may affect your case and your ability to bring forth a claim, such as issues involving government immunity.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

Find a Lawyer

Find a Local Lawyer