Are Educators Allowed to Search Students’ Cell Phones?


Christina Salsberry, Editor

Do students have a right to privacy on their cell phones? Answers seem to differ based on a variety of factors. While it is a well-known school-wide policy that electronics are allowed to be confiscated, some incidents seem to have made it unclear whether or not faculty and staff can search a student’s cell phone. After some digging, answers were found for this issue.

First, we must look at why a faculty/staff member would even want to look through a student’s phone. To help, the 2017-2018 Student/Parent Handbook was examined to tell us what policies the school has in place regarding cell phones and searches. According to page 13, “Electronic devices are not permitted during class time (unless allowed by the teacher for educational purposes), and all cell phones must be turned off completely. Students must understand that turning the cell phone on to vibrate or silent will not be acceptable in classrooms. Electronic devices and cell phones can be confiscated by teachers, supporting staff, and administration and will be held in the front office confiscated until the end of the day.” On page 12, we also see that “if an administrator believes that an item is present on campus that poses a threat to the safety of the students, he or she has the authority to conduct reasonable searches of students’ persons and belongings.”

After knowing these policies, we can again look at the question “are faculty and staff allowed to search a student’s cell phone?” The answer seems to be displayed as a spectrum. On one side, is it acceptable if a teacher were to search a student’s phone because they saw the phone out? No! This is made clear through the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches. The teacher is allowed to take the phone, as it is a clear violation of school policy and the student (or their parents) willingly signed up to attend the school. However, school policy does not cover the topic of searches and is therefore governed by the law. Although, on the other side, if a reputable student tells a teacher that a student has the answers to an exam, can the phone then be searched? The answer is almost certainly yes. The teacher has probable cause for violation of the anti-cheating policy, found on page 12, which states, “Cheating is also unacceptable offense and not tolerated under any circumstances. Cheating includes copying off another students’ work, allowing another to copy your work, using any unapproved aides such as cell phones or electronic devices and written materials.”’s statement of policies regarding this issue is one that could not have been worded better, stating that “schools would be wise to include a specific statement in their policies that regulate student-owned devices brought to school. The policy should advise everyone that students who bring their own devices to school are subject to a reasonable search if suspicion arises that the device contains evidence of a violation of school policy or the law. Students, staff, parents, and law enforcement officers working in the schools need to be aware of this policy so that no one is surprised if/when certain actions are taken.”