Searching students’ cell phones

Oct 22, 2010, 2:58 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

The Oak Harbor School District has backed away from its plan to let administrators search students’ cell phones for any reason.

The original policy, first proposed in August, said that by bringing cell phones to school, students were automatically giving consent to have their devices searched.

studenttextingParents and students didn’t like that, and neither did the American Civil Liberties Union. The district has now agreed they can’t randomly search phones and check out kids’ text messages unless they have a good reason. They approved a revised cell phone policy at their last meeting.

“The search by an administrator must be very narrowly focused on the violation the student is accused of,” says Doug Honig with the Seattle ACLU. “In other words, not just a fishing expedition into what might be on the student’s cell phone.”

A related issue – do schools have the right to check up on what your kids are doing on Facebook when they’re not on campus?

The short answer is yes.

The Seattle School District changed its student rights handbook this year to make it clear that administrators will monitor off campus speech, if it has a negative impact on the school day.

ACLU attorneys have been studying the Seattle policy and they’ve concluded it is legal and in line with what other school districts around the nation are doing.

“That said, we don’t think it’s the business of school officials to be poking around on what students are saying off campus just for the possibility that they might run across something, that really intrudes on students’ privacy rights,” Honig says.

While the policy itself isn’t a problem, how it’s enforced and the way students are disciplined for off campus speech might be a concern.

“We’ve seen at various places around the country where school officials have gotten involved with situations where students were saying things that were very critical of the school,” he says. “That’s not appropriate.”

So far there have been no problems with Seattle Schools policy.

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Searching students’ cell phones