Search and Seizure, Due Process, and Public Schools (page 3)

— Center for Public Education
Updated on May 5, 2014

Employees’ rights

Generally, school district employees are deemed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their offices, lockers, personal effects, and persons. Courts determine whether a search is reasonable by whether it is justified at the start—in other words, what evidence existed to prompt officials to conduct a search—and whether the search’s scope was reasonably related to the circumstances. In short, if you are looking for a crate of contraband, there is no right to look in cabinets and crevices. The more personally intrusive the search, the more compelling the circumstances must be to justify it. Exceptions to the rule include emergency circumstances, such as when officials are searching for a gun or when an individual gives consent to a search. Urinalysis for employees has generally been upheld for people in safety sensitive positions: those who interact regularly with students, use hazardous substances, operate dangerous equipment, or drive a bus.

The future

Issues of privacy, search and seizure, and due process rights can be highly charged and emotional. Because it calls for balancing school safety and discipline versus student rights, many of these cases never get to court, but are settled by discussions with school officials. The collision between the need to keep students safe and give them due process and the desire to let them learn and grow will continue to be a central question for schools for years to come. The results will say a lot about how much we value both privacy and process.

Selected resources

Encyclopedia of Everyday Law|Fifth Amendment This online document is available from, a web site featuring study guides, lesson plans, and other reference materials in various academic areas. National School Boards Association, Council of School Attorneys (NSBA). First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment Rights. The student rights and discipline page of the NSBA web site provides information about the challenges school districts face in balancing students’ First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights with their educational mission to maintain a safe nondisruptive learning environment. ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. School Safety and the Legal Rights of Students. ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 121.

This web site makes it easier to find ERIC Digests that were produced prior to the end of the former ERIC system. The site is privately owned and is in no way related to any Federal agency or ERIC unit. It exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents previously produced by ERIC. This document was prepared by Edwin C. Darden for the Center for Public Education. Darden is an attorney, writer, and consultant specializing in school law and public policy. Posted: April 5, 2006 Copyright 2006 Center for Public Education

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