The 10 Most Common Search Scenarios in Pennsylvania Public SchoolsRequest a Free Consultation

Previously I explained the constitutionality of school searches and a student’s diminished expectations of privacy while on school grounds or at a school function. The following are the ten (10) most common types of search scenarios at school (in Tonight Show Fashion:

  1. Search Scenarios In Pennsylvania Public SchoolsStudent Parking Passes

The School requires that all students seeking parking passes submit to drug and alcohol testing. A Pennsylvania court will more than likely find this policy unconstitutional because it discriminates against student drivers and non-drivers. A Pennsylvania court would only find this type of search constitutional if the school could provide a reason for testing only those students who drive rather than the entire student body. The school must show a special need or justification to satisfy the “reasonableness” requirement.


  1. Searches off of school property

A School official witnesses a student with contraband (drugs) off of school property. The student is in his car. The official calls police and they direct him to seize the weapon from the car or seize the drugs from the car. While the school may argue that the school official was attempting to protect a safe learning environment a Pennsylvania court would likely rule that they were acting outside of the scope of their authority and as a government agent based on the police directing the search.


  1. School security officer sees student with drug paraphernalia and a substantial amount of cash

The school official sees a student, who appears nervous, shove baggies and money into his jacket (but no drugs). In addition, the school official had received reports that the student was selling drugs in the school. The school official stops the student and searches his pockets uncovering the drugs. A Pennsylvania court will more than likely uphold this search as constitutional because the student has a limited expectation of privacy in school and because of the school’s goal of providing the proper learning environment. This search would be considered reasonable in a school setting but more than likely not constitutional (lack of probable cause) outside of the school environment.


  1. Smoking in the school bathroom

A school official over hears students talking about smoking in a bathroom and he smells smoke coming from the bathroom. When he enters the bathroom he sees two students’ not smoking or even holding cigarettes. The teacher questions the students who deny smoking but searches their pockets and finds cigarettes and crack cocaine. A Pennsylvania court will find the search reasonable because the teacher reasonably believed that the students were smoking in violation of the school rules.


  1. Unusual behavior in the hallways

A school police officer sees a student acting very unusual in the hallways. The student seems confused and acting like a person under the influence of drug or alcohol. The school police officer questions the student who doesn’t exactly answer the police officer’s questions. Based on the police officers observation he searches the student and finds drugs and a knife on him. A Pennsylvania court will more than likely uphold this search because the officer’s observations were reasonable.


  1. A Police tip to school officials

School administration receives a tip from police that a student has a gun at a school. Based on this information the school stops the student and searches him whereupon they find a knife. While the defense may argue that the search required probable cause and not simply reasonable suspicion, a Pennsylvania court will uphold the search. Most Pennsylvania courts will find that school officials who act on the tip, even if it’s from police, are not agents of the state or the federal government.


  1. Stolen School Property

School property is taken and a school official conducts a search of a small group of student who are in the area at the time the theft occurred. A male school official searches the male students and female school official searches the female students. The Pennsylvania court will find the search reasonable and constitutional because he was limited to a small group of students near the site where the theft occurred.


  1. Locker Searches

Police officers accompanied by a drug dog and school officials conduct a locker search. The dog stops at a locker and begins to bark. School officials and police search the locker and find drugs. A court will find this search reasonable and that it also satisfies the probable cause standard. The students have a limited expectation of privacy in school property, specifically lockers.


  1. Random searches with handheld metal detectors

Students are selected at random to be “wanded” with handheld metal detectors. All of the students are not searched because school officials need to move the line efficiently because school has to start on time. A Pennsylvania court will find the search constitutional because of the limited nature of the intrusion, the notice provided to the students about the search, and the school’s interest in keeping guns out of the school.


AND FINALLY , the #1 Scenario is

  1. Random drug testing of student athletes

Student athletes are randomly selected to submit to urine testing. A Pennsylvania court will find this search reasonable and not in violation of a student’s constitutional rights because of a students diminished expectation of privacy while at school, the relatively intrusive of a search and the need to protect students athletes and the school environments.


Bonus Scenario:

A Teacher’s hunch “I know something is going on”

A teacher suspects that a student is smoking in violation of the school policy. The teacher smells smoke on the student based on smell he asks the student to open her purse where upon he finds cigarettes and marijuana. A Pennsylvania court will find this search reasonable and constitutional because the search of the purse was reasonably calculated to obtain the contraband which was violating school policy. In addition the scope of the search was limited to the purse and not accessibly intrusive. The court will find the search constitutional because of the students limited expectation of privacy while at school and the school’s need to maintain good order and discipline in a school environment.