Tuesday, March 22, 2011

School Officials May Have Violated Student Rights By Searching Cell Phone for Evidence of Sexting

A middle school sexting case may help establish the ability of school officials to search student cell phones.

In a previous post I explained that a standard of reasonable suspicion applies to a determination of the legality of a school administrator's search of a student, and that any search must be reasonably related to the legitimate school objectives and not excessively intrusive.  Under this standard, school administrators probably cannot conduct random searches of the contents of cell phones. However, they can probably search the contents of a cell phone if there is reason to believe that the phone is used for criminal activity, such as bullying, sexting, or threats to safety.

In the Texas case, an eighth-grader admitted to sexting a boy.  A school official suspected the eighth-grader had been using a cell phone. When the student denied using the phone, the official she took the phone from her, turned it on, and accessed the sent messages.  While looking through the messages, a nude picture was discovered. 

The Texas judge ruled that while the initial search of the phone may have been justified because the use of the phone violated school rules, the official went too far in searching the contents of the sent messages.

The student’s lawsuit against the school for violation of her rights to will proceed to trial. 

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