As drugs and weapons infiltrate our nation’s schools, it is imperative that school officials take the necessary steps to maintain safety and preserve order in your child’s school. With that being said, your child has a right to privacy and school officials must not be overzealous in their investigation of alleged violations of school policy. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects persons from unreasonable searches and seizures by agents of the government, which includes school officials.

While this is a practical overview of Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues pertaining to your child and their school, you should contact one of our attorneys at Maya Murphy P.C. if you believe that your child’s rights have been violated by a school official in the course of an investigation.


How does the Fourth Amendment apply to my child while at school?

The application of the Fourth Amendment to an in-school search of your child or their property differs from the more generally applicable criminal standard. school officials do not need to obtain a warrant before conducting a search of your child or his or her property. The Court reasoned that requiring school officials to obtain a warrant would interfere with their ability to obtain evidence. Moreover, the need to maintain safety in the school environment at all times outweighs the warrant requirement. ”

In determining what is “reasonable”, the Court has developed a two-fold inquiry before a search may be conducted of your child or his or her property. First, the search must be “justified at its inception.” Second, the search must be “permissible in its scope.”


What does “justified at inception” mean?

To justify a search of your child or their property, school officials must have a logical reason for doing so in order to satisfy the “justified at inception” requirement. For example, if your child is acting in a manner indicating that he or she has consumed alcohol or has taken illicit drugs, smells like alcohol or drugs, or other students have informed school officials that your child may be engaging in activity inconsistent with school policy or the law, a search of your child will likely be found to be reasonable.


What does “permissible in its scope” mean?

A search will be found “permissible in its scope” when the measures that school officials employ in searching your child or their property were reasonably related to the objective of the search and the search was not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of your child.


What if a search of my child or their property results in the discovery of another item of contraband not subject to the initial search?

If a school administrator conducts a search of your child or their property when there is reasonable suspicion to do so, and that search results in discovery of an item that was not the intended object of the search, the school may still use that evidence of contraband to discipline your child for violating school policy or the law. An example of such a scenario would be checking your child’s bag or purse for cigarettes and finding illicit drugs, such as marijuana or other contraband.

Moreover, the school still may take disciplinary action against your child even if they violate your child’s Fourth Amendment rights. These violations, however, may provide grounds for you and your child to bring a Title 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action against the school and school personnel for infringing upon your child’s civil rights.


Can my child’s locker or desk be subject to a search?

The short answer is yes. The Connecticut General Assembly enacted legislation whereby all boards of education may authorize school officials or law enforcement officials to search lockers and other school property that is available for use by your child.

Under New York law, students have no reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to their lockers, desks, and other school storage places, and school officials retain complete control over them.


Can my child’s social media account(s) be subject to a search?

Maybe. In 2014, a Minnewaska, Minnesota student won a $70,000 settlement from his school district after being forced to give school officials access to her Facebook account. As part of the settlement, Minnewaska school policies were amended to provide that electronic records and passwords created off-campus can only be searched if there is reasonable suspicion that they will uncover violations of school rules.

However, in a recent case where a student sued school officials after they inspected her Facebook account and then suspended her from cheerleading based on evidence that they found on her account, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the school officials had qualified immunity because they “did not have fair warning that they could not, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, access a student’s social-networking account.”


Can my child be subject to random drug testing?

Drug testing is considered to be a type of search. For that reason, school officials may require your child to take a drug test when it is justifiable, and the requisite “reasonable suspicion” standard is met.


Can my child be arrested and handcuffed at school?

Students may be arrested for a wide range of offenses while on school grounds, and these offenses are not treated lightly. For instance, under Connecticut law, it is a felony for any person, including a student, to verbally or electronically make threats in a public or a private school. Under the law, threatening someone with serious physical injury while on school grounds is a felony. If your child has been arrested on or off school grounds, you should immediately consult one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C.

Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.


Our firm in Westport, Connecticut serves clients with legal assistance all over the state, including the towns of Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge. In addition to assisting clients in Connecticut, our firm handles education law matters in New York as well.


If you have any questions about education law in Connecticut or would like to speak to an attorney about a legal matter, please contact Joseph C. Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or to schedule a free initial consultation today.