General Question

crjdbj's avatar

Can a high school principal go through a student's phone?

Asked by crjdbj (8 points ) October 4th, 2010

Can a high school principal legally go through a student’s phone even if the student does not have it at shcool? Child was called to the office. Principal said there is a rumor that he had inappropriat pictures of another student on his phone. He wanted to see his phone so he could look through it. Student said it was at home. Principal called parent and wanted her to bring his phone to school so he could go through it. She told him it was none of his business what was in the phone since he never takes it to school.

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18 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

Not unless he has the parent’s permission.

Tink's avatar

Wait, why would the principal look through the students phone if the phone is at home?

Seaofclouds's avatar

I’m kind of torn on this. If it could fall into cyber bullying territory, I think it should be investigated. Perhaps the parents could have met with the principal with the phone or the parents could have looked at it to see if such photos were on the phone. If the student sent the picture to other students and they then ratted him out for it, I could understand the principal getting involved since it would then be distracting the school environment.

jca's avatar

I would think it would help if the parents were cooperative, and looked through the phone on behalf of the principal. that way, phone is not brought in for principal to be nosy, but parent checked the phone herself to make sure that the pictures were not on it.

LostInParadise's avatar

I really don’t think it is the school’s business. The principal can call the parent and act like a good citizen to inform the parent of what is going on, but I don’t think the principal can use the authority of the school to look at the phone. If the principal expects something is seriously wrong, contacting the police is also an option.

bigjay's avatar

sorry but that is a blatant disregard of human rights. even the police need a search warrant if they want to go through someones posessions [ofcourse this doesn’t apply when the evidence is staring them in the face – then they just take it]. what im saying is, if they had some strong reason to suspect you, and in order to protect your reputation or prove your innocence, you took your phone out to reprimand the rumors, it would have been ok. But noone, principal or otherwise, has a right to search through another person’s things.

mrentropy's avatar

Yeah, if it’s that inappropriate than it should be a police matter, not a school matter.

Seaofclouds's avatar

For those of you that think the principal should stay out of it, what if it was being used for bullying and the school has a zero tolerance policy on bullying? Wouldn’t the principal need to investigate the claim to verify if the student was involved in it since he really couldn’t just take the other students word for it when it came down to disciplinary actions?

jerv's avatar

Personally, I’d say that if it’s not on school property then the principal is powerless; he has to go through the police for that sort of thing.

@Seaofclouds The police are better at investigating than any school administrator, and principals have more limited jurisdiction. We pay the police with our tax dollars for exactly this sort of thing.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@jerv I agree that the police are better at investigating, I just feel that the school should be able to investigate it if there are indeed claims of bullying.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@Seaofclouds There is no reason the principal can’t ask to see the phone. The principal doesn’t have the legal right to demand to see it. If the student or the parents say no, then the matter is best left in police hands.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@WestRiverrat I think that depends on the school policy (when the phones are actually on school property). All of the schools I went to had a strict no cell phone policy and the teachers and principal could confiscate our cell phones if they saw them and then our parents would have to get them back. Since this particular phone isn’t on school grounds it’s different and I agree that the parents didn’t have to take it in for the principal to check it, but I really think th parents should have at least been more cooperative about it.

If something like this was going on with my child, I would help the principal figure out what was going on. By forcing the police to get involved, they are also forcing a possible criminal record for their child if there is indeed bullying going on and someone wants to press charges (since the police would be the ones gathering the evidence against their child).

jerv's avatar

@Seaofclouds Maybe if the phone was also on school grounds, but there is a limit to the principal’s power. I’d hold out for a police warrant, and if the principal can’t provide sufficient probable cause to get one then the whole thing is bullshit.

bigjay's avatar

@seaofclouds we know little about the policies of the school in question. what we do know are general laws on civil liberty and the rights granted by the first amendment. the OP himself said that the principal claimed it was a ‘rumor, this implies he had no solid evidence up to that point. in his attempt to procure evidence, however, the principal attempted to compromise the privacy of the student. a cell phone these days is as good as one’s mind – if someone doesn’t delete his messages or isn’t careful with the PIN, well its a shoo-in to contain sensitive information. forcing to see one’s phone is like trying to pry oneself into the victims mind. its just one step away from devolving into the sort of surveillance society you read about in totalitarian books.
personally, i would covertly tell my mother to delete everything on the phone [assuming i was actually at fault here], show the entire school the phone, and deface the principal’s reputation for trying to do the same to mine.

YARNLADY's avatar

Generally, minor children do not have the same property rights as adults, and their parents are in charge of their property. Parents usually try to co-operate in any request reguarding the safety of their child or other children.

It would have to be considered on a case by case basis, depending on the situation.

john65pennington's avatar

A princple can take your phone away, until the end of the day at school, unless you require it for an emergency. a principle, like any other authority figure, has to work with the police in acquiring a search warrant, if he wants to search through your phone. in other words, the phone as a whole, he can hold till the end of the day. searching through the phone requires a search warrant and is not legal. authority figures have to abide by the law, just like everyone else.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree with @jca the parents should check the phone. If their child is forwarding naked pictures, or could be implicated somehow in what would be considered an illegal act, it behooves the parents to check it out. In the end it could be saving their kid from getting into a lot of trouble. Kids are pretty ignorant when it comes to understanding the consequences of their actions both legally, and to the extent they might hurt others. I don’t feel it is appropriate for the principal to go through the phone, but I do think it is ok for him to alert the parents.

iamthemob's avatar

@YARNLADY brings up a good point – minors do not have the same legal privileges as adults. This sucks sometimes, however…they also are not held legally responsible for a lot of their actions. So it’s a trade off.

When it comes to personal property rights in the school settings, the school is legally responsible to the parents the entire time the children are under the school’s care. They are basically in the shoes of the parents. Therefore, those in charge will often seize and search property in a manner that seems like a gross violation of civil rights, unless you consider whether if it was the parent doing it, would it be so outrageous. Obviously, there are limitations to this, but we can’t forget the magnitude of that responsibility.

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