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Is it against the law to search a students cell phone with out cause?

College Station, TX |

my daughters cell phone was locked in the teachers cabinet. the principal came in and accused her of being on facebook and searched her computer. after finding nothing the principal went to the locked cabinet and got my daughters cell phone and went throught txt messages and her facebook on her phone. is this legal?

the phone had been voluntarily locked in the teachers cabinet at the beginning of the school day. this incident happened hours later.

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Attorney answers 2


Students do relinquish some privacy rights when going to school, but not of the type that would permit this type of search. I would contact a civil rights attorney in your neighborhood and ask for a free consultation to find out your options for addressing this legally.


Was this a private school or public? And what grade level is your daughter? Before getting into any discussions about taking possible legal action, you should contact the school for a copy of the written rules and regulations about student's cell phones at school. Private schools have a great deal more latitude than public, but most schools, public and private, have existing rules in place pertaining to cell phones brought to school by students. If there was reason for the school to believe that your daughter violated those rules, there may be some rule that the school believes justified the principal's action. It may be more important to defend against any disciplinary action against your daughter than to be considering an aggressive legal action or administrative complaint against the school. In all events, there are no meaningful damages apparent from the info in your question, so I would only caution you that many civil rights attorneys would not be willing to take this case on contingency. Only you can determine whether this matter justifies a lawsuit funded out of your own pocket. In all events, you do not want to mount a case that will not result in a recovery sufficient to cover the considerable costs of suing the school. A consultation with an attorney after you have resolved any disciplinary issues involving your daughter would be useful for you.

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We are not wanting to make a case, we are just trying to find out if it is legal or not to prove a point. My daughter is a senior at a public high school. There is nothing in the districts policy that is relevant to this. We have gotten conflicting answers within the district. One principal says it is absolutely not acceptable to file a complaint, while another(the one that searched it) says they have the right to. My child is not in trouble and they did not find anything on her phone that shouldnt be there, like I said I am just trying to find out who is correct here. if it is illegal I would like to point it out to the district so it does not happen to anyone else in the future. Thank you for all of your answers!! :)

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall


At the very least, the principal should have had a reasonable fact-based reason for the snooping. With a reason for suspecting some improper conduct, the principal's action was very likely not illegal. That is not to say it was good practice. If the snooping was done for no reason, it may have violated your daughter's privacy rights. In all events, schools have a lot of leeway to enforce rules about phones brought to school because there is such a potential for using today's high-capability instruments for cheating. And they can be very disruptive to the school's classroom processes. There is no more clear-cut answer that can be provided without knowing the principal's position in defense of the conduct.

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