Phones and Computers
A school needs to keep order in its buildings and on its grounds to have a safe and healthy place for learning. Sometimes students use cell phones, tablets, computers, and other property in ways that interfere with the school’s need for order and safety. Generally, school employees may take and hold your property if it disrupts the school or interferes with others’ education.
School employees may set limits on when and where you use your phone, tablet, computer, and other property, and may even ban them from school completely. If you use your phone, tablet, computer, or other property in violation of a school rule, the school may also temporarily take them away from
you. The school may hold your items until the end of the school day, and release them to your parents rather than to you. The school may also discipline you for violating a school rule on use of these items.
A school official may search your cell phone, personal computer, or similar device if the official has a reasonable suspicion that the search will produce evidence that you or someone else has violated a law or a school rule. For example, if the school official has a good reason to think that your cell phone camera has been used to take a picture of another student in a restroom, the official can look at the photos on the camera because a school rule prohibits taking that kind of picture. The school official’s search must be reasonably related to the reason for the search, and it must not go beyond what is necessary to look for the suspected violation.
In contrast, if a school official takes away your phone or computer simply because you used it at a time when you were not allowed to use the device, a search of the phone or computer is probably not reasonable.
The police usually do not have the right to take your cell phone or search it without a warrant. The only time they have a right to seize your phone or search it is when there is a true emergency. What counts as a true emergency will depend on the circumstances. Examples might be to find a kidnapping victim or prevent a bomb from going off. If the police ask for your phone and you don’t want them to take it you should ask if they are ordering you to turn it over. If they say no, tell them politely that you don’t want to provide it. If they order you to turn it over, state clearly that you do not give them permission to search your phone and that you are turning it over only to comply with their order. Be polite and cooperative, while stating your objection. You can ask a court later to protect your rights regarding your cell phone.