Law & Courts

Classrooms’ Contraband Searches Violate Rights, Appeals Court Says

By Andrew Trotter — September 28, 2004 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

An Arkansas school district’s practice of searching the pockets, purses, and backpacks of randomly selected classrooms of students for drugs and other contraband violates students’ right to privacy, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled that the Little Rock district’s practice of requiring entire classrooms to submit to the searches violated the Fourth Amendment right of its 7th graders to be free from unreasonable searches.

The practice was challenged in a lawsuit brought on behalf of a student identified in court papers as Jane Doe, who during the 1999-2000 school year, along with her classmates, was ordered to leave the classroom after emptying their pockets and placing their belongings, including backpacks and purses, on their desks.

While the students waited in the hallway, school personnel searched their belongings, including Jane Doe’s purse, in which they discovered a container of marijuana. School officials turned the drug over to police, and the girl was convicted of a misdemeanor. The school wasn’t identified in court papers.

A federal district judge in Little Rock ruled the search constitutional last year, but the 8th Circuit court panel reversed the decision Aug. 18, with one judge partially dissenting.

“Students often carry items of a personal or private nature in their pockets and bags, and many students (whether or not they are carrying contraband) must surely feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when officials decide to rifle through their personal belongings,” U.S. Circuit Judge Morris Sheppard Arnold wrote in the majority opinion.

The 25,000-student district failed to present evidence of an urgent problem with weapons or drugs in its schools, or cause to believe that the students who were to be searched were carrying such contraband, the opinion said.

The opinion noted that the students were legally compelled to attend school and had not accepted a lowered standard of privacy—for example, as a condition of participation in interscholastic sports or academic teams.

Search Methods Differ

Other school search techniques generally upheld by the courts, such as metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs, are not as intrusive as “people rummaging through personal belongings concealed within a container,” Judge Arnold wrote.

U.S. Circuit Judge C. Arlen Beam said he agreed that the search of Jane Doe violated her rights, but that he did not agree with the majority that the district’s search policy should be broadly struck down. He said the suspicionless searches might pass muster if the district did not turn violators over to the police.

The 8th Circuit covers Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The Little Rock district no longer conducts searches in the manner described in the lawsuit, according to Suellen Vann, its director of communications.

“We don’t go into containers and bags,” Ms. Vann said last week.

She said no decision had been made about whether the district would appeal.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as Classrooms’ Contraband Searches Violate Rights, Appeals Court Says

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts District Can Deny Opt-Outs on LGBTQ+ Books, Court Rules
Religious parents objected to a Maryland district's policy ending opt-outs for elementary school 'storybooks' with LGBTQ+ themes.
5 min read
A pedestrian passes by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Courthouse, June 16, 2021, on Main Street in Richmond, Va.
A person walks near the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit's courthouse in Richmond, Va. A panel of the court denied an injunction seeking to restore religious parents' opportunity to opt their children out of LGBTQ+ "storybooks" in a Maryland district.
Steve Helber/AP
Law & Courts Brown v. Board of Education: 70 Years of Progress and Challenges
The milestone for the historic 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down racial segregation in schools is marked by a range of tributes
12 min read
People mill around the third floor of the Kansas Statehouse in front of a Brown v. Board of Education mural before hearing from speakers recognizing the 70th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case on April 29, 2024 in Topeka, Kan.
People mill around the third floor of the Kansas Statehouse in front of a Brown v. Board of Education mural before hearing from speakers recognizing the 70th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case on April 29, 2024 in Topeka, Kan.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
Law & Courts Republican-Led States Sue to Block New Title IX Rule
A pair of lawsuits focus on the rule's protections for students' gender identity.
5 min read
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and healthcare stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus. Four Republican-led states filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the Biden administration's new Title IX regulation, which among other things would codify protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and healthcare stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus. Four Republican-led states filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the Biden administration's new Title IX regulation, which among other things would codify protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Patrick Orsagos/AP
Law & Courts Why It Will Now Be Easier for Educators to Sue Over Job Transfers
The case asked whether transferred employees had to show a 'significant' change in job conditions to sue under Title VII. The court said no.
8 min read
Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building at dusk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 16, 2022.
Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building at dusk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 16, 2022. The high court on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, made it easier for workers, including educators, to sue over job transfers.
Patrick Semansky/AP